SvoNotebook: Buckeyes Look For Complete Game

With Ohio State and Syracuse set to play Saturday night in Boston to determine the East Region championship, it's time to clean out the notebook heading into the highly anticipated matchup in Boston. This look at the game includes the Buckeyes' hope of a consistent 40 minutes as well as notes on the OSU defense and Syracuse's play without Fab Melo.

After Ohio State dismissed Cincinnati in Sweet 16 action on Thursday night, Jared Sullinger uttered a quote that led game stories and resulted in discussion across the country.

The quote got such attention because it was well-spoken and funny, two characteristics that can often be attributed to the OSU sophomore big man. But it also showed a deep truth about the Buckeye basketball team as it gets ready to face Syracuse on Saturday night with a Final Four berth on the line.

"We've got two types of basketball teams: We've got the cool guys and then the blue collar guys," Sullinger said. "I thought to start the second half we got into the cool guy mode and we kind of let our guard down. (Head coach Thad) Matta basically told us before we started the second half that they was going to come at us with everything they had because Cincinnati is just the type of team that does not give up.

"I mean, we just came out and decided to be cool guys, and they came out and they stung us, and then we got ourselves back into another basketball game."

Sullinger was referring to the 27-11 run that Cincinnati used to turn a 12-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead within the first 10 minutes of the second half.

That run becomes a mere footnote in history now, as Ohio State countered with its own 17-1 spurt to reclaim control of the game and eventually advance to the second Elite Eight of Matta's tenure.

But it also provided a key look into the mind-set of the Buckeye team. As is often to be expected of young teams, Ohio State has been inconsistent to say the least at times this year, occasionally backing up dominating wins with rough losses (though always against tough teams).

Rarely, though, have the team's two sides been laid as bare as they were in the second half of the Cincinnati game. Team members didn't even sugarcoat the mental struggles the team had after going into the locker room up 12 points, issues that led to Cincinnati's comeback.

"We had a pretty nice lead on them," guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "For some reason, guys thought that they were going to stop fighting. We got into our relaxed mode and took a chill pill."

The team's lone senior, William Buford, added, "We just got too complacent at the beginning of the second half."

So what will Ohio State have to do to avoid a 10-minute nap like the one that nearly cost the Buckeyes their season vs. Cincinnati and likely would against the top-seeded Bearcats?

Sullinger thinks he has an answer.

"(We have to) realize what's at stake, realize this is a chance to go to New Orleans," he said. "And also knowing that it's win and advance or lose and go home, and as long as we understand that, I think we'll have the blue collar team tomorrow."

No Melo No More
The biggest story about Syracuse going into the NCAA Tournament was how the Orange would be without center Fab Melo, a big loss, as he was ruled ineligible just days before the tournament tipped.

The 7-0 Melo was named the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year and was described by head coach Jim Boeheim as "dominating" on that end of the floor while averaging 5.8 rebounds per game and blocking 88 shots in 30 contests.

However, Syracuse has been able to compensate for the loss of Melo while defeating 16th-seeded UNC Asheville, eighth-seeded Kansas State and fourth-seeded Wisconsin.

"Losing Fab a few days before the tournament started, two days before, was obviously very difficult," Boeheim said. "It was difficult to lose a teammate, difficult as a coach to lose a great kid who's really developed as a player.

"We were fortunate that we had Rakeem (Christmas) and Baye (Keita) who have played this year at center, and we didn't have to find somebody who hadn't played. We had two guys."

Melo wasn't a huge presence offensively, as the Brazilian averaged 7.8 points per game and accumulated 43 turnovers. Defensively, though, the Buckeyes feel they can make the Orange pay for the loss of Melo.

"That's a big loss for them," OSU forward Deshaun Thomas said. "Now we know we can attack. Now we know that we can go into the chest of those bigs and try to get them in foul trouble."

Syracuse has gone from 7.1 blocks per game with Melo in the lineup to 4.7 in the NCAA Tournament, while the Orange has been outrebounded in three postseason games, continuing a trend that began in the regular season.

In Melo's stead, sophomore forward C.J. Fair has stepped into the starting lineup, though he's actually playing fewer minutes per game and averaging less points than he did in the regular season. One of the biggest gainers has been 6-8 guard James Southerland, who is averaging 10.0 points and 5.0 boards per NCAA contest, up from 6.6 and 3.0 before the start of the postseason.

Christmas, who is 6-9, has seen his minutes per game jump from 10.3 to 23.3 in the Big Dance, though he is averaging only 4.7 points per game on just 12 shots from the field. Keita has also been largely anonymous with 2.7 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in 15.7 minutes.

Defensive Thoughts
Much of the talk going into the game with Syracuse is how Ohio State will attack the Orange's famed 2-3 zone defense that Boeheim has used to frazzle opposing offenses for the better part of four decades.

Less has been written about how Ohio State will defend the Orange, but that could be just as important a factor in determining which team will advance to the Final Four.

Syracuse's tournament run has been led by three impressive guards, beginning with starters Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Jardine, a senior point guard who is a finalist for the Cousy Award as the best player at his position, has played 34.0 minutes per game in the tournament, scoring 13.7 points, dishing 6.3 assists per game and making 6 of 10 threes. Triche can be a tough matchup at 6-4, and the junior has added 8.0 points per game while shooting 55.6 percent.

Then there's explosive sophomore Dion Waiters, who hasn't started a game all year but is second on the team in 36 games with 12.7 points per game. He's leading the way in the postseason, too, with 14.3 points while making all 12 of his foul shots.

Matta was asked whether he'll match Syracuse's zone with one of his own, with the questioner noting the Orange has struggled against such looks this year. However, the Buckeyes predominantly play man, and the eighth-year head coach doesn't expect that to change Saturday night in TD Garden.

"We're into game 38," he said. "We are kind of who we are from that standpoint."

Matta also said his team played zone defense while prepping for the weekend, knowing opponent Cincinnati and then Syracuse would likely use the defense. What he saw in practice leaves him hesitant to try the defense against another team.

"We went against zone in practice and left with a ton of confidence on offense because the zone was so bad, so we weren't going to do that," Matta said among guffaws.

That doesn't mean the Buckeyes won't switch things up every now and then against the SU guards, however.

"(We'll play Craft against) all of them," Matta said. "With so many guys, we're going to have to throughout the course of the game make a lot of changes. I think all these guys will be guarding somebody different at a different juncture of the game."

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