Top seed Syracuse survived, but Ohio State and Wisconsin looked better en route to the Sweet 16.
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: East Region
Top Dog â Syracuse (1)
The Syracuse Orange continued their strange season â which has included the Bernie Fine sex abuse scandal, failed drug test rumors and multiple academic suspensions of center Fab Melo â on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Orange advanced to the Sweet 16, but it wasnât as easy as expected for a No. 1 seed. Coach Jim Boeheimâs club struggled to a 72â65 victory over UNC-Asheville (16) in a game that included multiple controversial calls, including a late lane violation and tipped ball out of bounds that both went against Asheville. Cuse played better in a 75â59 win over Kansas State (8), but were far from the terrifying team that went 33â2 overall and 17â1 in the Big East this year. Up next, Wisconsin (4) is playing with confidence and has no problem with winning ugly, a tactic Syracuse has only recently discovered.
Underdog â Cincinnati (6)
The Bearcats are battle-tested. Cincy ran through the Big East Tournament, until falling short against Louisville in the conference's first title game featuring two teams that were not original members. Then, Mick Cronin's No. 6-seeded club scrapped past No. 11 Texas, 65-59, and No. 3 Florida State, 62-56, all the way to the Sweet 16. Two of the four teams from Ohio square off when Cincinnati tips off against Ohio State in Boston on Thursday night. The big brother Buckeyes will have their hands full, especially OSU's five-star sophomore "Big Sully" Jared Sullinger, who will go toe-to-toe with 6'9", 260-pound senior tough guy Yancy Gates.
Missing in Action â Fab Melo, Syracuse (1)
Jim Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone in no way resembles the suffocating matchup nightmare it did when 7-foot Brazilian shot-blocker Fab Melo patrolled the Orange paint. The heart of SU's defense has been ripped out of the middle, in the middle of the heart of the season due to ongoing academic issues. Syracuse still has leaders like guards Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine; but at this point in the year, there is no replacement for the type of impact Melo provided defensively. Amazing, considering Melo was thought to be a "bust" by many knee-jerks reacting at this point during his freshman season last year. Don't be shocked if Wisconsin pulls off an upset against the Fab-less five of Syracuse.
âIt was more a matter of the ball not going in. All of my shots pretty much felt good. They just were a little bit short or a little bit too long. Things like that happen in basketball. The ball isnât always going to bounce your way.â â Vanderbilt senior Jeffery Taylor (4-of-12), who combined with SEC scoring leader John Jenkins (3-of-13) to shoot 7-of-25 from the field and 3-of-14 from 3-point range in a loss to Wisconsin.