East Region Semifinals
Published on March 22 at 1:43 a.m. Eastern.
By Brian Edwards
These East Region games will be played at TD Garden in Boston.
**Wisconsin vs. Syracuse**
–As of Wednesday afternoon, most books were listing top-seeded Syracuse (33-2 straight up, 18-16 against the spread) as a 3 ½-point favorite with a total of 121. Gamblers can back the Badgers to win outright for a plus-160 return (risk $100 to win $160).
–Playing without Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo, who was suspended for the NCAA Tournament last Tuesday, Jim Boeheim’s squad got a major scare against UNC-Asheville in its NCAA opener. The Bulldogs led the Orange by four at intermission and they very much in contention to pull off a stunning upset until the final 30 seconds. The ‘Cuse got a couple of fortunate calls at crunch time and knocked down its free throws to escape with a 72-65 win.
–Syracuse never threatened to cover the number against UNC-Asheville as a 15 ½-point favorite. James Southerland provided a huge lift off the bench for the Orange, scoring a team-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters added 12 points apiece.
–After playing so poorly against UNC-Asheville, Syracuse looked much better in Saturday’s 75-59 win over Kansas St. as a 5 ½-point favorite. Waiters was the catalyst with a game-high 18 points and Scoop Jardine tallied 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
–Wisconsin (26-9 SU, 18-14 ATS) advanced to another Sweet 16 thanks to a thrilling 60-57 win over Vanderbilt, which had been red hot after winning the SEC Tournament with a win over Kentucky in the finals. The Badgers took the cash in this pick ‘em affair. They got a team-high 14 points from senior point guard Jordan Taylor, who hit a clutch 3-pointer at crunch time. Taylor also got Vandy star Jeffery Taylor into foul trouble in the first half by forcing the refs to blow the whistle with his dribble penetration.
–As we all know, Syracuse strictly plays a zone defense and that very well could be a good thing for Wisconsin, which has a number of outstanding 3-point shooters, including several of its big men that can step out and stroke it from beyond the arc. Without Melo, the Orange can’t attack shooters quite as aggressively because it no longer has a premier shot blocker in the lane to bail out defenders that get beat with shot fakes off the dribble.
–Bo Ryan’s team has been an underdog seven times, compiling a 4-3 spread record with three outright victories.
–Syracuse has limped to a 5-9 spread record in 14 games as a single-digit favorite.
–The ‘under’ is 17-15 overall for the Badgers.
–The ‘under’ is 19-14-1 overall for the ‘Cuse, 4-1 in its last five games.
–Tip-off is scheduled for Thursday at 7:15 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
**Cincinnati vs. Ohio State**
–Most books are listing Ohio St. (29-7 SU, 18-13 ATS) as an eight-point favorite with a total of 129 ½. The Bearcats are available on the money line for a lucrative plus-320 payout (risk $100 to win $320).
–Cincinnati (26-10 SU, 17-13 ATS) has caught fire at the right time with 11 wins in its last 14 games, including Sunday night’s ferociously intense 62-56 win over third-seeded FSU as a two-point underdog. The Bearcats pulled away from the Seminoles in a defensive slugfest thanks to crucial jumpers at crunch time from Sean Kilpatrick, who scored a game-high 18 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
–Cincy’s win over FSU featured 11 ties and 22 lead changes. If coaches want to put in a film to teach their respective teams about defensive intensity, all they have to do is play the second half of this battle in which every dribble and pass was hotly contested. The game turned at the 1:40 mark after a Yancy Gates free throw knotted the score at 50-50. When Cincy showed press, Dion Dixon guessed correctly and got a great break on a pass from FSU’s Luke Loucks and got a steal and an easy dunk. Moments later, the Bearcats forced Loucks into another turnover (he thought he was fouled) and then they knocked down six consecutive free throws to put the game on ice.
–Mick Cronin’s team has thrived in the underdog role, going 8-4 ATS with six outright victories in 12 such situations.
–Cincy has been lining the pockets of its backers with greenbacks galore lately, going 8-1 ATS in its last nine games.
–Thad Matta’s team is back in another Sweet 16 thanks to a 73-66 win over Gonzaga as an eight-point ‘chalk’ this past Saturday. Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas shared team-high honors with 18 points apiece, but Aaron Craft was the difference with 17 points, 10 assists, three rebounds and three steals.
–Ohio St. has been a single-digit favorite 14 times and has struggled to a 5-9 spread record.
–Sullinger presents a matchup problem for most team because few squads have a physical presence with the type of size and strength to deal with Sullinger. That’s not the case whatsoever with the Bearcats, who have a guy in Yancy Gates who won’t be bullied in the lane by any other player in America.
–The ‘over’ is 18-11-2 overall for the Buckeyes, cashing in eight of their last nine games.
–The ‘under’ is 17-13 overall for the Bearcats, 7-3 in their last 10 games.
–This is the first time in NCAA Tournament history that four teams from the same state (Ohio: Cincy, Ohio St., Xavier and Ohio) have advanced to the Sweet 16.
–This game will begin 30 minutes following the end of ‘Cuse-Wisconsin.