Wisconsin (26-9) vs. Syracuse (33-2)
Thursday, March 22, 7:15 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Andy Sclight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: TD Garden (18,624) -- Boston, Massachusetts. Television: CBS. NCAA Tournament Record: Wisconsin 25-16, Syracuse 55-34. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: Syracuse looks to carry on in defending the East Region's top seed as the Orange battle the fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in a regional semifinal match from TD Garden in Boston.
Syracuse continued to prove its worth as the East's No. 1 seed Saturday by dispatching a dangerous No. 8 seed in Kansas State by way of a 75-59 final. The Orange secured a spot in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years with the victory, pulling away in the second half behind a scorching 66.7- percent shooting effort from the field. Syracuse was up just one at the break despite holding the Wildcats to 23.5 percent shooting in the opening stanza, but its depth simply overwhelmed K-State with a 33-0 advantage in bench points. Sophomore Dion Waiters and junior James Southerland were instrumental in that effort, recording 18 and 15 points, respectively. Senior Scoop Jardine stepped up with 16 points and eight assists while senior Kris Joseph netted 11 points. Freshman Rakeem Christmas registered a career-best 11 rebounds and added eight points in attempting to fill the shoes of talented sophomore Fab Melo. Syracuse (33-2) won its tournament opener for the fourth straight year last week with a 72-65 victory over 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville, setting a single-season wins record for the program. The Orange improved their tourney record to 55-34 in this the program's 35th all-time appearance at the Big Dance -- 29 of those trips coming under the tutelage of Naismith Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. This is the third time Syracuse has donned the status of a No. 1 seed in the tournament, having earned that right in two of the last three seasons. The Orange were a three-seed as an at-large team in the 2011 tourney, knocking off Indiana State in the second round before falling to Marquette. Syracuse has a rich history in this event, making four Final Four appearances, the last culminating in the program's lone NCAA championship in 2003.
Wisconsin pulled off a gritty 60-57 victory against a high-flying and veteran- laden No. 5 seed in Vanderbilt Saturday, securing a second straight Sweet 16 appearance for the first time in program history. The Badgers (26-9) now have the third-most wins in the team's history but the outcome against Vandy was in doubt right till the end. Wisconsin shot just 41.8 percent from the field overall and only 4-of-8 from the foul line, but the defense once again won out. The Badgers scored 19 points off a dozen turnovers and held the Commodores to 43.5 percent shooting from the floor. The Southeastern Conference's top two scorers in John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor were held to 13 and nine points, respectively. Meanwhile, UW got solid play across the board from its roster as senior Jordan Taylor led five players in double figures with 14 points. Junior Jared Berggren came up with 12 points and six rebounds while both junior Ryan Evans and sophomore Ben Brust contributed 11 points. Wisconsin posted the most lopsided win in its NCAA Tournament history last week in cruising past 13th-seed Montana with a 73-49 victory. The Badgers' heralded defense did a number on the Grizzlies as well, holding them to 38.3 percent shooting overall while moving to 10-1 in opening-round games under head coach Bo Ryan. Despite UW's longevity in making the field for a 14th consecutive year, it hasn't necessarily translated into the type of success it would like. Wisconsin has now reached as far as the Sweet 16 six times and the Elite Eight twice, advancing to the Final Four in 2000 where it fell to Michigan State. The Badgers' only other run to the Final Four in 18 all-time appearances came in 1941 when they captured the program's lone national title. UW fell to Butler in the regional semifinals of last year's tournament.
These two programs have met on just two occasions previously, with Syracuse taking the most recent meeting in 1999 at the Carrier Dome. Wisconsin logged a 31-24 win in the only other encounter back in 1927. The Badgers hold a 1-5 all-time record against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
The Badgers' formula for success has hardly wavered over the years under Ryan's guidance, with defense at the forefront of every gameplan. It's no surprise then that UW's defense was not only the best in the Big Ten but tops in the nation among 338 teams, stifling the opposition's attack to the tune of 52.9 ppg. Wisconsin is also among the top-10 teams in the country in field- goal percentage defense at 38.5 percent. Incredibly, the Big Ten features four of the top-16 teams in the country in scoring margin with the Badgers slotting in fourth among their league counterparts at plus-11.1. Wisconsin's offense continues to be a bit of a question mark in ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring (64.0 ppg) and field-goal percentage (42.5 percent). Taylor is the Badgers' top performer at 14.7 ppg while standing sixth in the Big Ten with 4.0 assists per game. Taylor often struggled to find his shot during the year, though, and stands with just a 40.2-percent accuracy from the floor. His 60 three-pointers top the roster and land at a 35.9-percent accuracy. Evans leads the team in rebounding with 6.8 per game and posts 11.1 ppg, while Berggren gives UW a trio of double-digit scoring options at 10.3 ppg and adds 5.0 boards. Helping to add depth down the line are Josh Gasser (7.7 ppg) and Brust (7.2 ppg), who stands second to Taylor with 55 threes on 38.5 percent shooting. The Badgers own the fourth-most three-pointers in the Big Ten with 271 as Berggren (42) and Gasser (41) contribute to that end. UW does a decent job of handling the glass with a plus-2.4 rebounding margin (33.8-31.3) and sports the third-best free-throw percentage in the Big Ten at 74.2 percent.
It's no surprise that the Orange represent one of the most balanced and well- rounded teams in the tournament after securing the second overall seed behind Kentucky. Syracuse ranks sixth in the country in scoring margin at plus-14.0, boasting the Big East's second-ranked offense with 74.5 points per game and third-ranked defense (60.5 ppg). Along those same lines, Syracuse shoots a league-high 46.6 percent from the field while holding the opposition to a mere 38.3 shooting percentage -- good for second in the Big East. However, things got a bit tougher for the Orange on the eve of the tournament as the NCAA ruled the aforementioned Melo ineligible for the remainder of the season due to his academics. Melo took a huge step forward this season, earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year accolades for posting a team-high 5.8 rebounds and ranking second in the conference with 2.9 blocks. Melo added 7.8 ppg and stands third in the conference in field-goal percentage (56.6 percent). Meanwhile, Joseph is at the head of the Orange scoring attack, averaging 13.7 ppg while dropping a team-high 50 three-pointers on 34.7 percent shooting. Waiters, Big East Sixth Man of the Year, is just as valuable in providing 12.7 ppg as a reserve, shooting 48.2 percent from the floor with 1.9 steals per game. The rest of the Orange will have to continue to step up without the services of Melo with experienced scorers junior Brandon Triche (9.1 ppg), sophomore C.J. Fair (8.3 ppg) and Jardine (8.6 ppg) in the fold. Jardine scored 11 points in the team's opening-round win over Asheville with all but two of his 27 points thus far in tournament play coming in the second half. Southerland has been a nice surprise off the bench thus far in the tournament, having also dropped a team-leading 15 points versus Asheville in stepping way above his season average of 7.1 ppg. Fair also chips in 5.4 rpg for the 'Cuse while Jardine hands out 4.9 assists per contest -- 7.5 apg through two tourney contests. Joseph adds 4.9 rebounds to the mix but the 'Cuse stand just 14th in the Big East this year in rebounding margin at minus-1.5 (36.7-35.2).
Wisconsin will face its toughest test yet in defending a very capable Syracuse squad that seems to be rallying around the absence of Melo after speculation swirled the squad would be an early out. The Orange already proved they have enough depth to pick up the scoring slack, but the inspired defensive play should be the key to beating the Badgers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Syracuse 67, Wisconsin 63
03/22 10:36:47 ET