Players to Watch
Dion Waiters (6-4, 215 lbs / soph.) – 12.7 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.9 spg (leads team)
Waiters, despite coming off the bench all season on the way to an All-Big-East third team selection and being named the league's Sixth Man of the Year, is by far the most talented and athletic player on the roster. Offensively, he can explode to the hoop and throw down a big dunk with the best of them yet he has the touch and range to get hot from the outside. He also happens to be playing his best ball of the season right now, averaging just under 20 points per game over his last three. Defensively, he hounds guards atop the 2-3 zone and loves to play the passing lanes.
Scoop Jardine (6-2, 195 lbs / sr.) – 8.6 ppg, 4.9 apg (leads team), 1.4 spg
Jardine is the floor general for the Orange and earned second-team All-Big-East honors. He is as good as he is bad at times, often playing the hero or the goat for Syracuse. Scoop is a pass-first player most of the time, but he will almost randomly hoist up a three-pointer or force a shot in the flow of the game though his erratic play has been a criticism of him for four years. Jardine's streakiness is a key for the Orange, and he trended up against K-State on Saturday with a big second-half. Previously, he was having a hard time getting going in the conference tournament and NCAA game against UNC-Asheville. The point guard is also interesting late in games with a 53.8 free throw percentage.
Kris Joseph (6-7, 215 lbs / sr.) – 13.7 ppg (leads team), 4.9 rpg, 31.9 minutes per game (leads team)
Joseph has played significantly all four years, and he was on the All-Big-East first team this season after leading the Orange in scoring this season. He is usually a consistent threat with the ball in his hands, but has been subpar of late despite bouncing back some in Saturday's win. Joseph is a knock-down shooter more times than not from mid-range, and he has the ability to shoot the three when hot. Defensively, he is a solid rebounder though his slim frame enables bigger defenders to box him out more times than not.
Sophomore center Fab Melo, who was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East, is also a usual key to SU, but the school has deemed the big-time shot-blocker ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.
C.J. Fair is considered a "glue" guy for Syracuse because he does a bit of everything. Not only is he the team's best rebounder, but he can hit the mid-range jumper without hesitation and play a ton of productive minutes.
Brandon Triche starts alongside Jardine in the backcourt, and he has been up-and-down most of the season offensively. However, he is the best rebounding guard on the team as well as the best shooter from the stripe (78.1 percent).
Rakeem Christmas has been given the keys to the car in the effort to replace Melo. He has had his moments, but the freshman is getting better and better with each start at center. He won't put up the dominant numbers that Melo did, but he's playing with passion and energy night-in, night-out. Baye Keita is backing up Christmas, but we get the sense his time will be more limited unless the freshman is in foul trouble.
James Southerland is usually a complimentary guy, but he is becoming the most consistent player on both ends of the court while in the game. He has taken some of Fair's minutes as a guy who can play the 3 or 4, but with a much more lethal shot. Southerland has scored in double-figures in three of the last four games, as well as back-to-back 15-point efforts in the NCAA Tournament. Defensively, he is an underrated shot-blocker (11 in his last five games) and a good rebounder.
Michael Carter-Williams, a freshman guard, has been fazed out of the rotation for now but he has the ability to run the offense and create problems for the opponent on defense with his long arms and solid anticipation.
Jim Boeheim's philosophy
Offensively, the Hall-of-Famer wants to get out in transition as much as possible. He hasn't always had the athletes or the depth to do so – but this year's bunch has both. In the halfcourt, Boeheim wants the ball in either Jardine's or Waiters' hands – utilizing plenty of high screen and rolls to initiate movement and give the ball-handler the ability to attack the rim or drive and kick-out to a shooter.
On defense, Boeheim utilizes perhaps the most famous 2-3 zone in college basketball. He recruits long guards, versatile wings and stout centers to create a congested lane while still finding a way to consistently contest outside shots. The guards on top of the zone will play the passing lanes and look to run off of turnovers, blocked shots or long rebounds. The defense is not built for rebounding, so the running game is a counter to that consistent weakness.
Trends Heading into the Matchup
Syracuse will always look to run, no matter the opponent, but they have not been able to do it as much of late. Two of the last three teams the Orange has faced utilized a zone that really slowed SU's offense and frustrated the ball-handlers. Kansas State's man-to-man look was welcomed by the Syracuse offense, as it found opportunities to get to the lane and kick-out to shooters on the way to shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
The defense isn't leading to as many running chances for the offense based on shot-blocks with Melo out of the mix, but the guards continue to pester opponents to help out. To help speed things up in a high-risk, high-reward move, Boeheim has elected to use the press more of late to try and generate more turnovers and pressure.
What Syracuse has to do to win
In order for Syracuse to defeat Wisconsin, the offense must remain steady. The Badgers will play tough defense for 40 minutes, so the ball-handlers must remain aggressive towards the rim to initiate the play-making process. Settling for long shots would spell doom for the top seed in the East region.
Defensively, the Orange should continue doing what it has been. The 2-3 zone forces opponents to shoot from distance, and the team would have to knock the shots down more times than not early on in order to spread the zone look out. In SU's two losses this season, both Notre Dame and Cincinnati came out of the gates incredibly hot from downtown on the way to a big first-half lead that proved too big for Syracuse to completely overcome.