Syracuse has survived the loss of Fab Melo to advance to the Elite Eight. They have done so because other players like C.J. Fair and Brandon Triche have stepped up their production, and by playing very well offensively over the last two games after the scare against UNC-Asheville. Against Kansas State, they ran up against a team that could hurt them severely on the glass, but was not polished or consistent enough offensively otherwise. Against Wisconsin, they faced a team that did not get as many offensive rebounds, but which in the second half, was able to create open looks from outside against the zone and shoot over 50% from three.
Now, the Ohio State Buckeyes await. Ohio State is strong enough inside to challenge the Syracuse on the glass and get second chances crashing against the Syracuse zone. They are also better offensively and should be more disciplined in attacking it than Kansas State. Sullinger is a good post passer, and so his influence in catching the ball in the center of the zone and making good decisions will be a primary factor in attacking the Syracuse zone.
At the other end, Aaron Craft is one of the best on the ball perimeter defenders in the game, and Ohio State generates steals. Syracuse usually does a good job of not turning it over, and so Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters not turning it over when guarded by Craft will be key. Ohio State is good at limiting second chance opportunities (2nd best in country at defensive rebound rate, per KenPom), while Syracuse is pretty good at getting offensive boards (while being poor at preventing them on the other end). That will be another decisive factor. If Syracuse avoids turnovers and keeps them in the single digits, and can play well on the offensive glass, they will win.
The Line: Ohio State by 3. The Pick: When #1 and #2 seeds meet in a regional final since 1985, they are dead even at 18-18. The Buckeyes are actually favored, and I think that a) their proficiency on the offensive glass, along with Syracuse’s vulnerability there, plus b) Sullinger’s role as a high post recipient and decision maker, will be key factors. Ohio State -3.
Tourney Pick Record: 37-20 against the spread.