#4 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #1 Syracuse Orange – East Regional Semifinals
The full attention and fuss of the college basketball media is focused on North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall and will he or won’t he play Friday night (smart money is on “yes, but he shouldn’t). Meanwhile, everyone, perhaps Vegas included, seems to have forgotten about one of the most conspicuous absences in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse’s big man Fab Melo. The Orange did just enough to advance in the first two rounds, playing a little better in their second game than in the opener against UNC Ashville, but have still not shown me they are the same team without Melo.
They better be if they want to beat Bo Ryan and his always March-ready Badgers. Wisconsin is the exact type of team that thrives against Syracuse and their vaunted zone. They have versatile bigs who can shoot from the perimeter (think Butler two years ago when they upset Syracuse in the same round, in the same 1 v 4 matchup). They also have an exceptional point guard. Jordan Taylor led the nation in assist to turnover ratio for players who averaged at least three assists per game. Let me repeat that: for anyone who actually handled the ball exclusively and productively, not a single player in the NATION was more efficient with it than Jordan Taylor.
Syracuse still has plenty of talent without Melo, including one of the most steady, veteran backcourts in the nation. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine have been excellent and largely underrated all season long. The matchup with Taylor and Jardine/Triche is one of the hidden gems of the tournament to this point. However, I don’t see much of an edge with Syracuse’s interior players. They are going to need a ton more from Kris Joseph than the 10.4 ppg he has given them over the past five games. Without a real post presence, they need the slashing athleticism of Joseph to get them tough baskets against the smothering and methodical Wisconsin defense.
This game feels more like a -1 or even a pick ‘em when I start breaking down the positional matchups, as well as comfort factor against different defensive looks and tempo. I am honestly surprised that Syracuse is still a three and a half point favorite, but perhaps some of the amateur gambling over-reliance on the seeds is playing a small factor. Syracuse is just 2-7 ATS in their last nine games. It tells me as the season has gone on, teams have scouted them a bit better and they don’t have a striking talent advantage in the way that Kentucky and North Carolina do. Therefore, the scores begin to tighten and the underdogs cover.
Either way, I like Bo Ryan and the Badgers to advance, and love them getting three and a half points.
Free Pick: Wisconsin Badgers +3.5