Sweet Sixteen Preview: East Region
#2 Ohio State vs. #6 Cincinnati
Cincinnati is hot right now, beating Texas and Florida state after knocking off a Syracuse team at full strength in the Big East tournament.
The Bearcats will have to do a lot of things right against Ohio State, the first being neutralizing Jared Sullinger. That responsibility falls into the hands of the 6'9, 260 pound Yancy Gates, who will need that tough guy swagger in order to take Sully out of his comfort zone in the post. With Gates size, Cincinnati should at least attempt at at guarding Sullinger straight up, considering his three-point kick-out options in Deshawn Thomas and William Buford.
But there's one thing Ohio State has that can't be replicated or planned for, and that's the adorable little point guard with the rosey red cheeks. Aaron Craft was excellent against Gonzaga, collecting 17 points and 10 dimes while driving the Ohio State offense. Craft is a relentless on-ball defender, and should give Dion Dixon all he can handle once he crosses half-court.
I like the matchup of Buford on Kilpatrick for Ohio State. Kilpatrick is not an adept shot-creator inside the arc, and with a 6'5 Buford in his grill on the perimeter, clear looks at the rim won't come at a premium.
Cincinnati could afford to shoot a combined 8 for 31 against Florida State and Texas, who struggle to light up the scoreboard. But against Ohio State, they'll need Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick to both catch fire.
I like Ohio State's strong perimeter defense to offset Cincinnati's tantalizing guard-trio, and advance to play Syracuse in the East region's final matchup.
#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin
Wisconsin's strengths revolve around their ability to contest shots- they're 6th in the country in opponent 3pt% allowed. Wisconsin held Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor to a combined 3 for 14 from downtown. Problem is Syracuse doesn't rely on the three. In fact, the three-ball only accounts for 25.5% of Syracuse's offensive output, the 214th most in the country.
One of the keys to beating a zone is constant movement and dribble penetration. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they rank #268 in the country in assists. While Jordan Taylor can go off for 20+, it's generally a lot easier to do so playing head to head against another defender- a scenario that rarely presents itself going at a zone in the half court. Without a true point guard to breakdown the defense, Wisconsin could have trouble getting clean open looks.
Offensively, Wisconsin is already one of the lowest scoring teams in the entire country at only 63.9 points per game. They're also one of the worse offensive rebounding teams in the country. Meanwhile, Syracuse's length and athleticism should make it awfully difficult for the Badgers to execute their offense. Expect CJ Fair and Kris Joseph to have big days inside the arc.
I don't expect the Badgers to score many points, and while the Orange have struggled to get easy baskets without Fab Melo, I think they prevail based on their athleticism and defensive court coverage.
Final Four Prediction
Ohio State. Love their balance, not just from a talent perspective. They can score inside or out, and they can defend. But it's their maturity as a group, along with an excellent coach and sturdy floor general that make them a strong Final Four candidate.
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