When Wisconsin has the ball
The Big Ten team focuses on tough man-to-man defense, but it takes care of the ball offensively while just giving it up nine times a night – something the Orange usually thrives on to create running opportunities.
The epitome of why the Badgers are so good with the ball in their hands, second in all of Division I only behind only Purdue, is their senior leader and floor general Jordan Taylor. He will shatter the NCAA record for career assist-turnover ratio (career 2.99) even with a letdown against SU. Not only does Taylor protect the ball while contributing four assists per game, but he can score at will from the outside.
So how does Syracuse match up with the senior?
The good news is that the Orange will extend out in the 2-3 zone more than usual to limit Wisconsin's three-point shooting in general, so Taylor should expect Scoop Jardine or Brandon Triche to be near the arc throughout the evening as he brings the ball up. The better news for SU is that the zone will be a constant in the game, and not a single player will have to worry about defending Taylor one-on-one no matter the situation.
When he does have the ball in his hands, though, it is imperative to get it into somebody else's. The rest of the Badgers are more catch-and-shoot type players who are responsive to Taylor's play-making ability instead of creating their own shot.
The exception? Swingman Ryan Evans.
While not the most gaudy scorer, Evans is consistent. He has scored in double-figures over the last 14 games, and he is the team's leading rebounder in the process. Evans is longer than his listed 6-foot-6 frame, so he will be the second key for the Orange defense. The junior has the ability to hit a jump shot as well as slash to the rim, so his ability to get inside the zone may cause issue for Syracuse.
The other players on the roster – even the bigs - will not hesitate to hoist up three-pointers, but the zone's extension should limit an efficient percentage from accumulating from deep.
When Syracuse has the ball
As if Wisconsin's offensive numbers aren't gaudy enough, their defense is actually the better unit. Yes, it's a simple – yet tough – man-to-man scheme, but it holds opponents to just 52.9 points per game. The mark is the best among 338 Division I basketball teams.
The Badgers are gritty, and they will turn you over – though Syracuse is also a top 10 team at protecting the ball (just 10.6 turnovers per game).
But the difference between most Big Ten teams and the Orange is athleticism, individual scoring ability and depth. Facing what was considered another tough man-to-man team in the Round of 32, Syracuse put up 75 points in a win over Kansas State.
Jardine said the team's collective eyes lit up at the thought of a team manning-up against he, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and company since the zone has frustrated SU so much of late. It won't happen on Thursday, though, as Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan is set in his ways the same way Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim is with his defense.
Expect Waiters to attack early and often from inside and out, with Joseph as a compliment. The penetration should lead to kick-out opportunities for Triche and James Southerland from beyond the arc and C.J. Fair from 15-feet.