The Sweet 16 of March Madness gets underway on Thursday night as top-seeded Syracuse takes on fourth-seeded Wisconsin. The game is scheduled for a 7:15 p.m. start time and it will be televised nationally on CBS. Currently the odds have Syracuse favored by 3.5 points with the total sitting at 120.5 points.
Free Analysis: Both Syracuse and Wisconsin made it to the second weekend of the tournament without too much of a problem, outside of UNC-Asheville giving the Orange a run for their money. The Orange live and die by their patented 2-3 zone while Wisconsin plays a gritty, man-to-man defense that often frustrates their opponents. It's safe to say the team that plays better defense in this contest probably should have the upper hand. Sweet 16 teams often play pretty good defense, so it's no surprise both of these quality clubs made it this far. The Orange have gotten to this point in the tournament without the obvious use of Fab Melo, but it's not like they needed him the first two games that much anyway. Wisconsin's 52.9 points allowed is the lowest of the teams left in the tournament — and the lowest in Division I this season — while Syracuse's 60.5 is fifth-best in the country. The Badgers love to slow the game down and control the basketball while Syracuse uses their zone to get out into transition and pump up the pace of the contest. Syracuse hauls in more than 9 steals per game, good for third in the country. They average quite a bit more points than Wisconsin does, which shouldn't be a surprise, really. "The great thing about the game of basketball is you can play and approach it in a lot of different ways and be successful. Coaches have done that over the years," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who's been so successful in his 36 seasons that he is third all-time on the Division I wins list and is in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. "There's a lot of different ways to coach a team and to play the game, and yet you can still be successful." Boeheim knows what's going on. But then again, a great, quality coach like Boeheim likes to run a zone defense and yet another great, quality coach like Bo Ryan refuses to play it. "I've never played a second of zone defense since I've been at Wisconsin," senior guard Jordan Taylor said. "I've heard coach say one time he played it one possession and he got scored on I think he said, so he won't go back to it. I don't think you're going to see that tomorrow." Ryan said he's been impressed with Syracuse's defense, even without Melo being in the middle. So, even tough the Wisconsin coach doesn't like to play defense, he still knows that it works for several clubs, mainly the Orange. "They have a system, and when you have a system and it's been taught for so long and the guys get into that system and it's passed on by the older players, whether you're older by a year, by a month, by three years, the athleticism and depth that they have, it really to me doesn't change how they play or the way they play," Ryan said. "So we only prepare for who's there, not for who isn't." Syracuse is going to have to play the way they did against Kansas State in the second half of their second round game last weekend. The Orange outscored Kansas State 50-35 and beat up the Wildcats on the perimeter. Wisconsin will probably also look to connect from the perimeter in today's contest, especially against that zone. The Badgers shot 36 percent from beyond the arc this season. Syracuse scored less than 60 points per game, the number Wisconsin gives up, just five times this season, going 4-1 in those games. If the Badgers struggle from the field, Syracuse is going to have the upper hand. If the Orange turn this into a game of transition, it will be even worse for Wisconsin.
Free Pick: Even without Melo playing in the middle I think Syracuse is the right play here. Syracuse has lost its last three round of 16 games, the last victory coming in 2003 on the way to the school's first national championship. Wisconsin has lost its last two regional semifinals, the last win coming in 2005 when the Badgers lost in the next round. As both of these teams get to this point in the tournament, it seems they have struggled. To me, the Orange zone and ability to get out and run in transition is going to be enough to make a difference in the game. Wisconsin is going to have their hands full defensively with the athletes Syracuse has, so laying four points in this game doesn't seem to be an issue for me.
Betting Strategies: March Madness 2012 - Recaps and Tips
Host Marco D'Angelo and Pregame Pro Bryan Leonard discuss their recaps of the first "half" of the NCAA March Madness tournament and give their insight and tips on how to approach Sweet 16 and beyond.