Men’s NCAA Tournament East Region Elite Eight Breakdown
After three rounds of hard-fought, entertaining basketball, we have finally reached the last stage of each regional. Next stop for one of these teams: New Orleans, home of this year’s Final Four. The East Regional final features a team many thought wouldn’t make it to the Elite Eight against a team many thought might move on to the Final Four. Yet these teams are the 1 and 2 seeds in the tournament.
Here is a look at the regional final:
The Big East faces the Big Ten in the regional finals, preventing what would have been an interesting setup. Two Big East teams (Syracuse and Cincinnati) may have met in the regional finals, or two Big Ten teams (Wisconsin and Ohio State) might have faced off. Instead, it was one of each going up against each other for the right to move on to New Orleans.
By now, everyone has likely given up on the likelihood of Syracuse (34-2) faltering before its time. The loss of sophomore Fab Melo to eligibility issues, thought to be the straw that would break the camel’s back, turned out to be a non-issue. Credit veteran coach Jim Boeheim for surviving another scare in what has been a monstrous season that included eligibility factors, allegations of sexual abuse among assistant coaches and repeated drug-test violations. Boeheim has kept the focus on the court, and Melo’s absence turned out to be much ado about nothing. All Syracuse has done is win and win again with victories over UNC-Asheville (72-65), Kansas State (75-59) and Wisconsin (64-63). The latter game was a very close call for the Orange. C.J. Fair, who had scored 20 points in the six games combined before the Wisconsin showdown, ended up with 15 points to pace his team. Jared Berggren and Jordan Taylor had 17 points apiece for Wisconsin, but it wasn’t enough.
Ohio State (30-7) reached the Elite Eight by way of victories over Loyola Maryland (78-59), Gonzaga (73-66) and Cincinnati (81-66). In the Cincinnati game, which marked just the second meeting for these two schools since 1962, Jared Sullinger lived up to his reputation with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Deshaun Thomas poured in 26 points. Cashmere Wright led Cincinnati with 18 points as the Bearcats’ season came to a close in the sweet 16. Ohio State was expected to make it this far, as the Buckeyes have lived up to their reputation as one of the top programs in the nation. Thanks to the win on Thursday, Ohio State is the only one still standing out of four Ohio teams to advance to the sweet 16 (Ohio, Xavier and Cincinnati all lost in the regional semifinals).
Ohio State and Syracuse aren’t too far apart in scoring. The Buckeyes average 75.1 points per game, good for 35th in Division I, and Syracuse is 39th at 74.6. Ohio State possesses better rebounding and a slightly stronger shooting percentage as well, although Syracuse is no slouch when it comes to shooting the basketball.
Syracuse is 1-0 against Big Ten teams this season, having edged Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, while Ohio State is 1-0 against Big East schools. Can the Buckeyes make it 2-0?
How Syracuse makes it to New Orleans: Crowd noise. Because Wisconsin and Cincinnati have lost, chances are leftover Syracuse fans will make the trek from New York to Boston to catch the regional finals, filling up TD Garden with orange-clad fans ready to make some noise and root on Syracuse. If Fair and other shooters all have solid nights, Syracuse moves on to the Final Four.
How Ohio State makes it to New Orleans: Scoring and more scoring. Sullinger and Thomas stir the drink, and if both are on fire the Buckeyes are hard to stop.
This game will be very close, maybe not as close as the Wisconsin contest, but the strong 1-2 punch of Ohio State is tough to overcome. In the end, Ohio State should move on to New Orleans.