(1) Syracuse vs. (2) Ohio State: East Region
Syracuse 34-2, 17-1 Big East (Regular-season Conference Champions; At large)
Ohio State 30-7, 13-5 Big Ten (Regular-season Conference Champions; At large)
Time: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Location: TD Garden in Boston
Winner will face: (1) North Carolina, (2) Kansas, (11) N.C. State or (13) Ohio, Sunday
Syracuse def. UNC-Asheville, 72-65; def. Kansas State, 75-59; def. Wisconsin, 64-63
Ohio State def. Loyola (Md.), 78-69; def. Gonzaga, 73-66; def. Cincinnati, 81-66
Syracuse No. 2 AP; No. 2 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Ohio State No. 7 AP; No. 7 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Ohio State 5
Line: Ohio State -3 (O/U 141½)
Players to Watch
Syracuse: F Kris Joseph, 6-7 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.3 spg); G Scoop Jardine, 6-2 Sr. (8.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.4 spg); F C.J. Fair, 6-8 So. (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 spg). Fair had arguably his best game of the season when the Orange needed him the most. He put up 15 points – on 7-of-9 shooting – seven rebounds and had four steals in Thursday’s 1-point win over Wisconsin.
Ohio State: F Jared Sullinger, 6-9 So. (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 53% FG); F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7 So. (16.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 53.4% FG); G Aaron Craft, 6-2 So. (8.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.3 rpg). Craft made only two of his seven shots Thursday, but he finished with 11 points, six steals, five assists, four rebounds and hit a big shot to help Ohio State regain momentum midway through the second half against rival Cincinnati.
Why Each Team Dangerous
Syracuse: No team has deeper talent than the Orange, as Fair, Dion Waiters and James Southerland have proven throughout the tournament. Syracuse shot 55 percent from the floor against Wisconsin, which has one of the best defenses in the country. It also hit five of its nine 3s. The Orange have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, shooting 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the 3-point line. Defensively, they hold opponents to 38.5 percent from the floor and 31.5 from deep. They also force 16.1 turnovers and get 9.2 steals per contest.
Ohio State: Sullinger and Thomas were incredible in Thursday’s win over Cincinnati, combined for 49 points and 18 rebounds, including a combined 30 first-half points. They’ll be a handful for Syracuse. The Buckeyes forced 18 turnovers and out-rebounded the Bearcats 33-26. For the year, OSU is shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and out-rebounded opponents by 7.6 per game. The Buckeyes’ have a 3.1 turnover ratio and their 1.26-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks 19th nationally.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Syracuse: With Fab Melo’s absence, Syracuse has almost no inside presence. His replacements, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita, combined for four points and six rebounds against Wisconsin. For the season, the Orange were out-rebounded by 1.4 per game. Those could be big factors against Sullinger and Thomas. The Badgers hit 14-of-27 from the 3-point line Thursday and Cuse had just five assists on 27 field goals in the win.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are not a good perimeter shooting team. They hit just 33 percent of their 3-pointers, although they were 8-for-17 on Thursday. Ohio State has almost no depth. Only one Buckeye played more than two minutes off the bench Thursday. Against Syracuse’s solid depth, that could be a big concern. Although Sullinger is a great offensive player, OSU doesn’t have much of a defensive presence in the paint.
The Bottom Line: Despite conventional wisdom, this game is a toss-up. It really could go either way. So I’ll take the points and the under.
The Pick: Ohio State 68, Syracuse 66
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 214-168-6