BOSTON – Leading up to tonight’s much anticipated East Regional Final between the Syracuse and Ohio State, it’s clear what’s driving the discussion.
Rarely this season has the focus been about how the Orange would fare and adjust to an opponent’s offensive or defensive approach, but rather how their opponent would handle the vaunted zone.
Jim Boeheim’s team has been the favorites in every game leading up to tonight (note: tonight is the first game all season where ‘Cuse is the Vegas underdog, as they’re currently +2.5 against Ohio State), so they get the benefit of the doubt in most cases as the team that will win if they just play their game.
So for tonight, it’s not really about how a Fab Melo-less Orange team can limit the production of a Jared Sullinger. It’s not about if Syracuse’s ball-handlers can playmake when defended by Aaron Craft.
No, the questions being asked to handicap this match-up is if the Buckeyes, specifically Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, can effectively score against the 2-3.
“We haven’t seen a ton of zone for a steady diet,” said Thad Matta. “And Syracuse’s is different because they play it more obviously frequently.”
Sullinger has slowly taken his offensive game a bit beyond the basket, and may have to do that even more tonight to get his points by making the mid-range jumper.
He’s also a deft passer for a big-man, so getting him the ball in the middle of the zone wouldn’t be a terrible idea, as he could easily decide to look to draw defenders and hit an open perimeter player.
“Our guards are trying attack in the middle and dump it down on the baseline,” said Thomas.”It’s more than just shooting threes. We’re just going to get in the zone and get easy shots”
For Thomas, his versatility is what makes him a potentially dangerous weapon for Thad Matta. A player that can score from just about anywhere on the court when he’s at his best – as proven in the Buckeyes Sweet 16 victory over Cincinnati – Thomas may have to replicate the output once again if the Buckeyes are to win the East.
“I think that you look at kind of the climate of college basketball now, and it’s really shifted to skilled four men and guys that can really stretch the defense,” said Matta, emphasizing the importance of player like Thomas against a zone. “I think the great thing Deshaun has is he cannot only stretch it but he’s driving the ball. The last month of the season, he’s really putting it on the deck and doing a better job there, but he can also post‑up. “
The Buckeyes are a more talented and balanced team than Wisconsin. They don’t need to hit 14-three-pointers just to have a shot to beat the Orange. But what they do need to do is work from the inside to the outside when it comes to creating offense.
“Moving [Sullinger] around, high, low, inside, outside, kind of the same with Deshaun, that tandem there is something we definitely need to do in tomorrow night’s game,” said Matta.
The Buckeyes have the personnel on the offensive end to give the Orange fits for a full 40 minutes.
Getting Sullinger and Thomas going early is key, and allowing the rest of the team to feed off that attention and get open looks will be what could drive the Buckeyes straight to New Orleans.