The Wisconsin Badgers (4) and Syracuse Orange (1) will face-off in the Sweet 16 Thursday night at 7:15 p.m. ET. The Badgers defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores while the Orange beat the Kansas State Wildcats to have the honor of playing each other.
There is no doubt about it, whichever team plays the better defense will win the game. Wisconsin’s scoring defense is ranked first in the country holding opponents to an impressive 52.9 points per game while Syracuse is up there with 60.5 points per game. The defenses could not be more different as the Badgers play an aggressive man-to-man coverage while the Orange sports a 2-3 zone.
Wisconsin: The Badgers average 63.9 points and 11.7 assists per game while converting 42.4 percent from the field. Head coach Bo Ryan wants his players to make multiple passes while using up the entire shot clock to find high-percentage shots for his playmakers. The Badgers will shoot the three-ball early and often with their chance of winning the game offensively riding on this. Wisconsin is very successful from behind-the-arc as they converted 36.1 of their shots on the season. However, they have never had to shoot against a team with this much reach which could pose as a problem. The Badgers are also very good at shooting from the free-throw (74.1 percent) which means they will try and get Syracuse in foul trouble early.
Seniors Jordan Taylor and Ryan Evans must have good games in order for Wisconsin to succeed. They have worked hard their entire lives for this moment and now it is time for them to shine. Taylor is averaging 14.7 points this season while Evans averages 11.1. They will both need to be around their season averages for the Badgers to come out victorious.
Syracuse: The Orange average 74.6 points and an impressive 15.8 assists per game while converting 46.5 percent from the field. They will do whatever it takes to score in the paint in order to throw the Badgers off of their defensive game. Syracuse is decent behind-the-arc but do not rely on it like Wisconsin does as they are a more aggressive offense by taking it to the house. The Orange has been playing phenomenal offense in the tournament thus far. Their top six scorers have averaged between 15.0 and 16.5 points in the last two games, a run similar to when they were ranked No. 1 in the country earlier this season. In the second-half against the Kansas State Wildcats they scored 50 points and shot 66.7 percent from the field.
As the leading scorers of the Orange, senior forward Kris Joseph and sophomore guard Dion Waiters must have big games offensively in order for Syracuse to break through Wisconsin’s man-to-man coverage. They will have plenty of help as junior forward James Southerland is averaging 15.0 points per game in the tournament.
Advantage: Syracuse. If Syracuse can force their way into the paint and win the one-on-one battles against Wisconsin they should have no problem advancing to the Elite Eight. The Badgers simply risk too much on the three-pointer which could be the downfall for them.
Wisconsin: The nation’s No.1 defense could be the reason Wisconsin advances to their first Elite Eight since 2005. Defense is Ryan’s bread and butter when it comes to coaching. There are few coaches in the NCAA that are better at it then he is. The Badgers have only allowed opposing teams to shoot 38.3 percent from the field (9th) and 28.9 percent from behind-the-arc (6th). Their intense man-to-man coverage will allow them to control the ball as well as possessions. As athletic as Syracuse is the worst part of their game is shooting from the field. What the Badgers do best is exactly that, forcing opponents to take difficult shots away from the basket. Wisconsin defenders will smother the Syracuse shooters and frustrate them to no extent forcing multiple turnovers.
Syracuse: The Orange’s defense may not be as solid as the Badgers but it is still good. Syracuse has held their opponents to an incredible 38.3 percent shooting from the field (7th) which could cause problems for Wisconsin’s offense as they enjoy recording a majority of their points from jump shots. The Orange is also one of the more elite teams when it comes to blocking shots and stealing the ball. They rank third in the NCAA with 7.1 blocks as well as third in the country with 9.4 steals per game. Syracuse prides themselves on forcing turnovers as they are one of the best teams in the country at it. However, the Badgers hardly ever turn the ball over which would mean the Orange could be in trouble.
Advantage: Wisconsin. The Badgers have the best defense in the country for a reason. Their number one priority will be to not allow Syracuse in the paint no matter what happens. By doing this, the Orange will be forced to play an offensive game they are not used to playing.
Outcome: This is the best matchup in the Sweet Sixteen and could potentially be the most exciting game to watch. One of the better offenses in the NCAA versus the best defense will always prove to be fun to watch. Wisconsin’s ability to slow down the tempo of the game on offense by using every second of the shot clock while also forcing Syracuse to convert difficult shots from the field will provide the perfect upset. Wisconsin will win the game 65-64 and advance to the Elite Eight.