That is right!! The Badgers are back in the Sweet Sixteen and this is your Border Rivals preview for tomorrow’s big game.
In getting to the Sweet 16, Bo Ryan’s system has inflicted a rhythm on Badger opponents that is more awkward to watch than Mark Madsen at a championship parade. Jordan Taylor has reminded everyone that success in the tournament starts first with your PG. He has outshone the opposing back court in each game (particularly against Vandy when the frustrating Badger offense consisted of running clock for 28 seconds and then watching Jordan try and save us).
Tomorrow’s opponent, the Orange of Syracuse, definitely present the Badgers’ toughest test to date. They are led by seniors Kris Joseph, forward, and Scoop Jardine, guard. They also rely heavily on junior guard Brandon Triche and National 6th Man of the Year candidate (if such an award existed), Dion Waiters.
Like with every Syracuse team since Coach Boheim’s installation, the Orange attack you on defense with a modified 2-3 zone. To call it swarming might be an understatement. For back courts that lack a solid handle or if your team is fundamentally lacking, the ‘Cuse’s zone will eat you up faster than Kirstie Alley at a donut hole convention. In a way, the Badgers offensive philosophy actually capitalizes on the Orange’s defensive weakness. If the Badgers move the ball around the floor effectively, without turning it over, and can convert their shots at a decent clip (say the 46% they are shooting against other zone defenses they have faced in the tourney) they definitely have a shot to upset the ‘Cuse.
Part of converting their shots will mean strong performances from anyone not named Jordan Taylor. Junior Ryan Evans is the most likely candidate to step up and play Robin to Taylor’s Batman. He had strong games against both Vandy and Montana. But, perhaps even more important, he has a tool in his arsenal that is the perfect counter to a zone defense: the mid-range jump shot. If Evans can get his mid-game rolling, it will force the ‘Cuse to either bring a big out to contest, which will open up looks/rebounding opportunities for Berggren and Bruesewitz, or collapse on the perimeter, which will mean open looks for Gasser, Taylor, and super-soph, Ben Brust. Evans’ mid-range game may be the key to opening up the Orange defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers may struggle to match up with the athleticism that the Orange bring to the court. Bo has never recruited the uber-athletic hoopsters, as we covered in great detail here. Because the Badgers do not have the athletes to hang with the Orange, they should do the smart thing and take a page out of ND/UNC Asheville’s book, and not even bother to try to match up that way.
Instead, the Badgers would be wise to stay back, cut off the passing/driving lanes, and force the Orange into shooting jumpers. The ‘Cuse do not have a starter shooting better than 36% from deep. The two losses that the Orange have suffered this year came against teams that lagged on defense, forced them to shoot jumpers, and protected the defensive glass. That last part is essential. Every player for the ‘Cuse will attack the rim after the shot goes up, the Badgers need to stay committed to playing the fundamental basketball that got them where they are. They need to man up and box out (or get away with a holding – like the last play against Vandy – that Ed Hochuli would have called) to limit the Orange’s second chance opportunities.
If the Badgers can do that, there is a decent chance that they get a crack at those annoying legumes (or is a Buckeye a nut?) from Ohio State for a chance to go to the Final Four. They have already beaten them once this year so a repeat performance is not out of the question. Just remember, the Butler Bulldogs made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Championship game by imposing its grinding style on opponents, taking care of the ball, and converting open looks. The Badgers path to a “One Shining Moment” is there, all they have to do is go out there and execute.