NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Predictions: East Region: Syracuse vs. Wisconsin

By: Kels Dayton

Alright, so your bracket is busted. So is everyone else’s. Now it’s time to put away the tissues, wipe your nose on your old bracket and start over. Get back in the game with a Sweet-16 pool, because from here on out the tournament is much more predictable. You can still win something on this thing—even though it won’t feel as glorious as it would have had you picked Lehigh to knock out Duke. So, sit back, relax, and read up on the tournament from here on out. Because everybody deserves a second chance–except Duke. They’re out.


Kris Joseph will have to come up big if the Orange want to advance past Wisconsin. (Dennis Nett/Syracuse Post-Standard)

 SYRAC– — USE (33-2, Big East)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: If not for a bogus lane violation and a comically bad out-of-bounds call, the Orange may not be here. Syracuse narrowly escaped 16-seed UNC-Asheville, 72-65, avoiding becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16. The ‘Cuse then took out Kansas State in much more convincing fashion, ousting the Wildcats behind 16 points and 8 assists from team leader Scoop Jardine.

BURNING QUESTION: Can the Orange advance to the Final Four without Fab Melo? The 7-0 center was suspended for the NCAA Tournament for academic reasons, so Syracuse is left without their best defensive player and rebounder for the duration of the season. This team is still plenty talented enough to make a run without him, but the defense will suffer because guards can’t come out as aggressively on their man knowing that a shot-blocking presence is waiting behind to back them up.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Syracuse will need forward Kris Joseph to step up. Joseph is the most talented player on the Orange, but has a tendency to disappear for stretches in games. He’s going to need to put together a full game against Wisconsin, and especially against Ohio State or Cincinnati in the Elite Eight, if the Orange want to cut down the nets and get to New Orleans.

X-FACTOR: Scoop Jardine. He’s the team’s senior leader, and he willed the team to a second-half push against Kansas State. Jardine is not Syracuse’s best athlete or most talented player, but he is their most important. He must take over in Boston if the ‘Cuse want to advance.

Scoop Jardine keys the Orange. (AP Photo)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Orange shoot the lights out and force the tempo against Wisconsin. Their athletes prove too much for the gritty Badgers, who just don’t have the playmakers to compete with Syracuse for a full forty minutes. The zone defense suffocates the Badgers shooters, and Wisconsin struggles to score in a Syracuse win. The Orange then get Cincinnati in the Elite Eight, a team they are familiar with and handled on the road without Melo earlier this season.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Much like Butler in the 2010 Sweet 16, Wisconsin’s defense hounds the Orange and forces bad shots and turnovers. Joseph disappears for a while, and the Badgers, led by Jordan Taylor, knock down shots against the Syracuse zone. Wisconsin advances past the Orange and into the Elite Eight.

CHANCE TO WIN THE REGION: 35%.  Even without Melo, this will be the most talented team in Boston. Jared Sullinger and Ohio State will pose a huge threat should the teams meet in the Elite Eight, and the Buckeyes have the power inside and the shooters to knock out Syracuse. But the Orange have more than a puncher’s chance to get to the Final Four anyway.


 4 WISCONSIN (26-9, Big Ten)

Ryan Evans is going to have to be key if Wisconsin wants to upset Syracuse. (Matt Ryerson/US Presswire)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Badgers humiliated Montana in the Round of 64 and then survived a late charge from Vanderbilt in the third round, getting a gigantic three-pointer from senior point guard Jordan Taylor and edging the Commodores, 60-57. It was the type of gutty win we’ve come to expect from Wisconsin, which is simply tougher than most teams and uses that to their big advantage in the tournament.

BURNING QUESTION: Who’s going to score? Taylor leads the Badgers in scoring at 14.7 points per game, but Wisconsin doesn’t have that Kris Joseph, Jared Sullinger, Cashmere Wright or William Buford-type player who can light up the scoreboard and will the team to victory in the later rounds. Wisconsin wins with defense, but the athletes get better the deeper you go in the Dance. Syracuse and Ohio State can really put points on the board, so Wisconsin is going to have to get a big-time performance from somebody to overcome that.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Defense. That’s how Wisconsin wins, period. If the Badgers can lock down Syracuse the way Butler did in the Sweet 16 in 2010, they can topple the Orange and advance. The Bulldogs provided a great blueprint two years ago, and Wisconsin must follow it if they want to repeat that success.

X-FACTOR: Ryan Evans. If the 6-6 junior forward is on, he’s tough to stop. The Badgers are going to need a great performance from him if they want to advance to New Orleans.

Jordan Taylor leads the Badgers in scoring and assists. (AP Photo)

BEST CASE SCENARIO: Wisconsin catches fire from long range and busts up Syracuse’s zone. The Badgers’ defense frustrates the Orange’s athletes, and Wisconsin mucks up the game en route to the Elite Eight. There, they face Big Ten rival Ohio State, whom they already defeated on the road this season.

WORST CASE SCENARIO: Syracuse’s athletes prove too much for the Badgers, and Wisconsin struggles from the field. The Orange pull away in the second half and send the Badgers home in the Sweet 16.

CHANCE TO WIN THE REGION: 18%. The Badgers just don’t have the athletes to pull it off. But this is an extremely well-coached team, and it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility, especially with Melo out of the lineup for Syracuse and a familiar foe in Ohio State in the region.



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