The game wasn’t a track meet. The score was only 64-63. But this was one of the best games of the college basketball season. The way Wisconsin played last night, they would’ve crushed just about anybody else. Unfortunately for the Badgers, they played a Syracuse team that had its best offensive performance of the year.
Many thought Syracuse would struggle in this matchup because much of its offense is predicated on creating turnovers and getting easy fast break buckets. Wisconsin turned it over just 6 times in the game resulting in just 2 fast break scores both in the first half. But the Orange were nearly error-free as well and matched the Badgers with just 6 turnovers of their own.
With the lack of transition points, Syracuse took advantage of its athletic superiority. Wisconsin only plays man-to-man and the Orange thrive in one-on-one situations. The guards had a field day penetrating to the rim at will. Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters combined to go 15-for-26 for 38 points. In addition to the guards, CJ Fair finally broke out of his slump.
Of those 6 Wisconsin turnovers, Fair was responsible for 4 of them off steals and with under 6 minutes remaining, one of those steals led to a fast break dunk for his first points of the night. That seemed to get him going as he twice more before half and kept rolling into the second half. Fair began hitting the same shots he had been hitting all year until just recently. He finished 7-for-9 and a team-high 15 points.
Wisconsin had an answer to Syracuse’s game with its own impressive offensive display. Bo Ryan deserves a tremendous amount of credit for how his team dissected the 2-3 zone. No team all season has come close to breaking down the zone the way the Badgers did. It’s especially impressive given that Wisconsin doesn’t have any players that are good at creating their own shot.
Through terrific ball movement – whether it was by penetrating and kicking back out or cross court, or simply quick passes around the perimeter – they were able to get open looks all night. And they cashed in on those open looks. At one point, Wisconsin was 14-for-21 from 3-point range before missing their final 6 attempts to fall to a still-scorching 52-percent. It wasn’t as if Syracuse was playing poor defense either. Wisconsin just made the extra pass and was especially effective because the Badgers have so many players that can knock down the deep shot. Normally, Syracuse is able to identify the 1-2 threats on a team and make sure they don’t get good looks. Wisconsin had four players make at least 3 3-pointers last night. The only drawback to the 3-point shooting was it helped negate one of the Orange’s biggest weaknesses. By spreading the floor, Wisconsin wasn’t able to crash the boards and that allowed Syracuse to equal the Badgers in rebounds at 23. It might not seem like much, but the way SU has been rebounding, a tie is a big victory.
Speaking of big victories, Syracuse advances to the elite eight for the first time since 2003. Just like in 2003, the Orange advance to the elite eight off of a 1-point victory (defeated Auburn, 79-78). Let’s hope this postseason continues to mirror that magical run in 2003.