The stage for the Elite 8 is set in the East region as the chalk played out. No. 1 Syracuse and No. 2 Ohio State will battle on Saturday night with the Final Four on the line. On Friday, each team took its time addressing the media before a closed practice session. Here are the highlights from the afternoon:
"I've known Rakeem ever since we was young in AAU, so I know Rakeem likes to block shots, and he's physical," Sullinger said.
*Point guard Aaron Craft has the tough task on his hands to both slow Syracuse's guards and handle the ball offensively against the 2-3 zone. However, he downplayed the pressure on him.
"I have a lot of great players around me and that helps a lot," he said. "Those guys have a lot of confidence in me and in what we've done throughout the year so there shouldn't be a ton of pressure just going out there and playing another basketball game and executing a game plan."
*Despite Wisconsin's success against Syracuse from three-point range in the Sweet 16, the Buckeye shooters are still approaching the game and SU's zone with caution.
"It's not our game plan just to get threes," said William Buford. "We want to move the ball against their defense. The threes certainly count, but we do want to move it and work inside out."
"He is going to be a phenomenal coach someday," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. "I remember when Greg came in to see Ohio State last spring, we walked into the gym, and I said to Aaron (Craft)…let me introduce you. He goes, ‘I know who he is.'
" They've got kind of the bon being a quarterback, that sort of thing."
*Matta was asked about his defense implementing a zone considering the Orange thrives against man-to-man units, and he admitted that that isn't likely.
"We're into Game 30 whatever it is," he said. "We kind of are who we are from the standpoint, and I'll be honest with you: Going against a zone this week – we felt like Cincinnati was going to play us like they did last night, the first half zone, and thought there was a chance we'd play Syracuse, so we went 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. "
*Coach Jim Boeheim had nothing but praise for Ohio State, going as far as saying they may be the best team he's seen this season.
"I saw them early in the year when they destroyed Duke, and I thought they're going to be there at the end of the year," he said. "They've got the inside presence. They've got a great point guard. They've got great scorers…
"I think they're the best team I've seen all year long in terms of total makeup and what they do."
*Christmas knows Sullinger will be a handful down low, but also knows that SU's zone will allow help to come in if/when needed.
"He's a big body and just going to keep the ball out of his hands," he said when asked about what types of problems the sophomore presents. "Basically that's it. If he gets it in there, we have Kris (Joseph) and C.J. (Fair) and them down there to help me."
*Deshaun Thomas comes in among the leaders in scoring during the NCAA Tournament, with 75 points to his name. The Orange's defense is well aware, and knows it has its hands full with his ability to score.
"We've just got to get out on him, make him uncomfortable out there, don't give him any easy looks," said Kris Joseph. "That comes from a team effort. Our bumps have to be crisp and the defensive end has to work well.
"We'll just know where he is in the zone, locate him at all times, and make it difficult for him to get shots off."
*Facing OSU's man-to-man defense, the Orange's guards will again be expected to attack.
"I'm going to try to be aggressive early, it'll definitely help the team team out," said Brandon Triche. "With me being able to score more points, it will help the team out by the end of the game.
"(Against) man-to-man, we get more opportunities to go to the basket. Against a zone we're more hesitant."
*Even with the No. 1 target on its back and with adversity coming in from all angles over the course of the year, Boeheim maintains that the Orange don't feel the pressure of this or any moment.
"There shouldn't be any pressure, just go out there and play," he said. "If you're the best team, you win. If we'd have lost last night, they wouldn't have had anything to be ashamed about."