Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 3/21/12

For the first time in program history, the Wisconsin Badgers are making back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.  In typical fashion, most critics were underestimating UW’s chances of advancing past the first weekend but Bo Ryan has done it again.  The Badgers will match up with top seed Syracuse Thursday night in an East Regional game in Boston.  Many were hopping off the Orange bandwagon after Fab Melo was suspended for the NCAA Tournament, but ‘Cuse avoided upset bids in the opening weekend to keep their dancing shoes shined.

How Syracuse got here:

The Orange narrowly avoided becoming the first ever #1 seed to lose to a 16 when they pulled away late to knock off UNC-Asheville in the opening round, 72-65.  Things came a bit easier in their second game as ‘Cuse advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 75-59 victory against Kansas State.

How Wisconsin got here:

The Badgers were once again a sexy pick to lose their opening round game but had no problem taking down Montana in the opening round, 73-49.  Wisconsin then gutted out a hard-fought win versus Vanderbilt, who many people were picking to make the Final Four coming off their SEC Tournament Title.  Five players scored in double figures for UW  in that game and that doesn’t include starting shooting guard Josh Gasser who was battling the flu.  Ben Brust provided a huge spark off the bench hitting a few three pointers while Ryan Evans continues to play at a high level.

What to expect Thursday:

The most interesting aspect of this match-up is how the Badgers offense will attack Syracuse’s highly effective 2-3 zone.  It is no secret that Wisconsin lives and dies with their three-point shot.  If they are hitting from the outside, they can beat any team on any night.  However if those shots aren’t falling, Wisconsin has been known to go through long scoring droughts.  Vandy played some 2-3 zone against the Badgers and it caused some problems since Wisconsin was settling for three-pointers.  The Badgers need to be aggressive in attacking and finding gaps in the zone and not just winding down the shot clock and throwing up a triple.

The Orange in their own right aren’t exactly a terrific half-court offensive team.  They excel when forcing turnovers and getting out in transition due to the athleticism of guys like Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph, and C.J. Fair.  ‘Cuse doesn’t really have a legit back-to-the-basket scorer so they will rely on their slashing ability and have to hit three-point shots of their own to be successful against the Badgers stout defense which has allowed the fewest points in Division One this season.

In typical Wisconsin fashion, controlling the tempo will be essential for any hope they have of advancing to the Elite 8.  Bo’s boys have been able to slow down fast-paced teams this season (see: North Carolina) and should be able to limit the ‘Cuse transition game since point guard Jordan Taylor rarely turns the ball over.  They will also need to find that balanced scoring that played a huge part in the Vandy win.  Taylor will eventually get his and Evans has developed into a dependable second option, but Jared Barggren, Gasser, Brust, Mike Bruesewitz, and Rob Wilson must hit some shots as well.

Prediction: Syracuse 63, Wisconsin 62

Of all the Sweet 16 games, this one is the biggest toss-up for me as I can see both teams finding a way to win.  There should be a pro-Syracuse crowd in Boston which will help the Orange a bit but this game will ultimately come down to how well Wisconsin strokes it from deep.  I think the Orange zone will do enough with their length and ability to quickly close in on gaps and shooters to force the Badgers to settle for three-point shots which could spell disaster.  Like I said earlier though; if Wisconsin is hot from distance, they will likely be the team one win away from a trip to the Final Four.

Check out our Marquette/Florida Sweet 16 preview

Check out our Michigan State/Louisville Sweet 16 preview

Check out our Kentucky/Indiana Sweet 16 preview

David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank.  He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.  David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu.  He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.

You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.

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