Preview: Ohio State and Syracuse for a trip to the Final Four

William Buford, Deshaun Thomas

Deshaun Thomas can score on anybody, but he may not necessarily be able to score on everybody. What I mean by that is, he won’t be able to beat that Jim Boheim Zone Defense by himself tonight, but I do expect him to be the main reason why it gets all blown up.

As opposed to traditional zone busting, which usually comes with the three ball first, I really feel like Tank Thomas and Jared Sullinger can exploit the Fab Melo-less frontline of Syracuse and create shots all over the floor for Aaron Craft and William Buford specifically.  Inside out, as opposed to outside in, or something like that. Tank and Sully will need to continue to play off one and other like they have throughout this tournament in order to do so however.

Against this zone defense particularly, Craft will need to get the ball into Thomas at the high post to start the offense. From there, Thomas and Sullinger will need to go to work. Once the double teams come they’ll need to find scorers, if it doesn’t, they need to finish strong at the rim. Craft and Buford can’t get caught watching those guys work in there though either, they have to be ready to catch and shoot when that ball comes back out. They’ll need to get the shooting performance that they each had last round against Cincy out of their heads from the jump though, and come out tonight ready to be the scoring threats they can be. If Sully and Tank keep playing like they have been, Craft and Buford will be wide open, and I expect them to capitalize.

I don’t mean to make it sound this simple either, but I really believe that if Craft and Buford combine for at least twenty points in this game than Ohio State wins. If they don’t, the Buckeyes could get be trouble. But what makes me most encouraged about this Ohio State team, why I picked them to go to the Final Four before the tournament started, is that they haven’t played their best basketball collectively as a team yet this season. Even in this tournament, Aaron Craft, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas, and Jared Sullinger haven’t all had good to great games at the same time. If they can tonight though, despite everything that’s happened this season, they go to the Final Four.

Personally I think it happens, and I got the Buckeyes winning by seven tonight. Here’s what the Eleven Warriors had to say about tonight’s game earlier today though, followed by the Syracuse Blog Orange44.

Ohio State / Eleven Warriors Preview:

The Ohio State offensive attack looked different against Cincinnati, and the main reason can be summed up in one word: Tank. Because of how effective Deshaun Thomas was against Loyola and Gonzaga, the offensive focus shifted toward getting him the ball vs. dumping it in to Sully. As a result, despite playing 37 minutes (one of his longest stints of the season) Sullinger took only 13 shots vs. 17 for Thomas. Tank has become “the man” in the Big Dance.

Deshaun Thomas continues to dominate.

Prior to Thursday, OSU’s offense typically would work through Sullinger, and any shots that went to Thomas were usually at least the 3rd or 4th pass of the possession and he would rarely see the ball before Sully would. But due to the change in focus against Cincy, most of Sullinger’s points in the first half came on put-backs. Not only that, but on two occasions Sully deliberately passed up a shot in the lane so that he could get the ball to Tank.

This shift to get the ball to the hot man vs. always dumping it in to Sullinger has paid dividends in other areas as well. Now all of the other players understand that if they make shots that the coaches will adjust the gameplan to take advantage of it. Since the tournament started I have noticed a more aggressive attitude on the part of Aaron Craft when it comes to looking for his shot, and even Lenzelle Smith Jr. is now looking to shoot a bit more. They are taking what the defense is giving them, and defenses are increasingly struggling to stop OSU’s attack.

 Syracuse / Orange44 Preview:

Obviously when looking at Ohio State you have to talk about Jared Sullinger. He averages 17.6ppg and had 23 points and 11 rebounds against Cincy in the Sweet 16. He is a beast in the post and not only will Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita have their hands full, but the forwards have to help out whenever they can.

Syracuse probably played their best offensive game all season against Wisconsin. While they needed to due to the barrage of 3s they can probably win this one with just a solid offensive effort. Ohio State got a false confidence boost in practice playing against their own team running zone very poorly. They will be facing a team that expertly plays the 2-3 in Syracuse. It will be Syracuse’s defense that leads them in this game, as it has all season. Sullinger will get opportunities to score. But stopping Aaron Craft from penetrating and dishing to open shooters will be an absolute must for the Orange.

Syracuse has proved that they can survive the long ball well in their last game so just focusing on good defense and getting hands in people’s faces will help. Ohio State is full of scorers, but they are obviously used to playing against MANTOMAN defenses. Syracuse will not be running that. Scoop Jardine not turning the ball over will be key. Craft is a very good on-ball defender and racks up the steals. Not turning the ball over against Ohio State for easy runouts will be crucial.

If you are always allowing essentially four point swings, you probably will be in trouble. The TD Garden will be absolutely full of Syracuse fans and should give a pretty decent home court advantage to the Orange. Because of that, and the fact that Ohio State doesn’t play against zone defenses as good as Syracuse ever, I like the Orange to take down this one. I’m picking Syracuse to head to the Final Four by 3. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Tip-off tonight at 7:05 on CBS.