2012 NCAA Tournament
Sweet 16 – East Region
Thursday, 3/22/12, 7:15 p.m. Eastern, TV: CBS
#1 Syracuse Orange (33-2) vs. #4 Wisconsin Badgers (26-9)
TD Garden – Boston, MA
Opening Line: Syracuse -4
Current Line: Syracuse -3.5
Opening Total: 119
Current Total: 120
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker
The top-seeded Syracuse Orange have been on a roller coaster ride in their first two NCAA tournament games and will face their toughest opponent in the Big Dance so far on Thursday when they square off against the fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in the Sweet 16. The Orange (33-2) are coming off a 75-59 rout of No. 8 Kansas State last Saturday after surviving a second-round scare against No. 16 UNC-Asheville in a 72-65 win and hope to continue their drive for the Final Four in the East Region semifinals at Boston’s TD Garden.
Syracuse (-3.5, O/U 120) looked a lot more like the team that has lost just two games this season against the Wildcats, even without 7-foot sophomore center Fab Melo. Freshman Rakeem Christmas stepped up in Melo’s absence with one of the best performance of his young career, grabbing 11 rebounds to go along with eight points and three blocked shots.
Melo averaged nearly three blocks per game for the Orange and led them in rebounding with 5.8 per game, but he is out with an eligibility issue. His teammates did not miss a beat without him though with eight blocks total while the team’s reserves outscored Kansas State by a 33-0 margin. Dion Waiters and James Southerland again led the charge off the bench with 18 and 15 points, respectively, after they combined for 27 against the Bulldogs in the previous round.
Wisconsin (26-9) knocked out No. 5 Vanderbilt 60-57 last Saturday following a 73-49 blowout victory against Montana in the second round. Led by senior point guard Jordan Taylor, the Badgers will present Syracuse with some serious challenges, both offensively and defensively. They limit possessions more than any team in the country and surrender just 52.9 points per game. On the other hand, 41 percent of their shots come from 3-point range, and they have made more than 40 percent of them over their last five games.
Teams that shoot the ball well from beyond the arc can often take advantage of the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense and make them change the way they play offense. Case in point, Cincinnati’s 71-68 win over Syracuse in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. The Bearcats made 8 of 10 3-point attempts in the first half en route to a 35-23 halftime lead and forced the Orange to try to keep up by bombing away from long range.
The Orange made 13 of 29 3-point attempts against Cincy and carried that mindset over to their matchup with UNC-Asheville, sinking only 5 of 23. Against the Wildcats, they were much more efficient, taking the ball inside, drawing fouls and hitting 6 of 9 3-point attempts. Taylor’s ability to set the tempo in Wisconsin’s favor and control his individual matchup with Syracuse point guard Scoop Jardine will be one of the keys to the game. If the Badgers can make their 3-pointers and bait the Orange into playing a similar style, they will have a shot to pull off the upset.
Wisconsin has won six of its last seven games, going 4-1 against the spread in its past five. Syracuse has gone 2-7 ATS in its previous nine with the UNDER cashing in four of five. The UNDER is also 7-2 in the last nine non-conference games for the Badgers. The Orange have not advanced past the Sweet 16 since they won the 2003 national championship.
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