#1 Syracuse Orange vs. #2 Ohio State Buckeyes -2.5 — East Regional Final
A funny thing happens in college basketball when a superstar returns for one more year of school. We (as fans) think we want our stars to stay in school. We bemoan decisions like Austin Rivers’ choice to go pro after just one spotty year at Duke. We agonize over early reports that Michael-Kidd Gilchrest is heading to the League, and all but assume despite comments from him to the contrary, that Anthony Davis is as good as gone. But when a star does decide to come back unexpectedly, as in the case of Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger, we start to shoot holes in their game, critique every one of their “flaws” and generally become insanely over-critical of everything they do on the court.
Sullinger’s draft status has undoubtedly dropped this season, and I’ll agree he had a few no-show games this season. But the simple fact remains, he will be easily the best player on the court tonight, and without Fab Melo the ‘Cuse don’t have an answer for him. Sullinger is averaging 18 points and 8.7 rebounds in the tournament, including a dominating 23 and 11 performance against Yancy Gates and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Look for Sullinger to have a big game tonight against the ‘Cuse zone. He is smart enough to pass out of double-teams, which will eventually discourage them from coming, and once you leave him single covered, he can score and get to line at will. Behind Tyler Zeller, he is the best scorer on the low block in the entire country.
It’s impossible to talk Ohio State basketball without talking about their emotional and floor leader, Aaron Craft. The Big Ten’s defensive player of the year is more than just a scrappy, hard-nosed defender. He is also an vastly improved shooter and distributor and outside of Kendall Marshall, the best all-around point guard left in the tournament. You saw how much difficulty Jordan Taylor’s heady play and deadly shooting causes the Orange. Look for more of the same from Aaron Craft.
This is a great matchup. Contrasting styles, tons of talent, elite coaches – I can’t wait. If Syracuse is going to win today, they are going to need huge games from CJ Fair and Kris Jospeh. However, both have very tough matchups with the athletic big wings of Ohio State. If they can’t win their individual matchups with William Buford and the most underrated player in the country (and best “garbage-man” and I mean that as a term of immense respect), Deshaun Thomas.
The more I look at matchups, the more I like Ohio State in this game. I have said from the beginning that outside of Kentucky and a healthy North Carolina, no other team in the country has the talent of Ohio State. I think that talent discrepancy will rear its head today as the Buckeyes advance to Thad Motta’s second Final Four. Remember that stat I gave you on Syracuse before picking Wisconsin. Syracuse is now 2-10 in their last 12 games ATS. Teams have been scouting well, and are catching up to the only averagely talented Orange. I expect Ohio State to be effective against the zone offensively, and excellent defensively preventing many easy baskets.
Give me the Buckeyes to advance to New Orleans and cover the two and half point line.
Free Pick: Ohio State Buckeyes -2.5