MBB : Nation’s top defense poses little challenge for Syracuse in win over Wisconsin
BOSTON – The toughest defense Syracuse faced all year was also one of the simplest to break.
The Orange just matched up too well with Wisconsin’s man-to-man. Even if the Badgers allowed the fewest points per game of any team in the nation, the defense played right into Syracuse’s hands.
‘All our guards know that nobody can stay in front of us,’ Dion Waiters said. ‘Especially in the man-to-man.’
Syracuse’s trio of guards – Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche – tore through the Badgers’ defense, at times penetrating at will. The Orange utilized its tried-and-true pick and roll all game, and when the Syracuse center would come set a screen, the Wisconsin big men stayed back rather than defend out to the 3-point line. That gave the Orange guards open space, and the 38 points on 15-of-26 shooting in top-seeded Syracuse’s 64-63 victory over No. 4 Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 on Thursday in the TD Garden was the result.
Syracuse became only the second team this season – Michigan State did it twice – to shoot at least 50 percent from the field as a team against the Badgers.
‘We know, everybody knows, they’re an explosive offensive team,’ Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor said. ‘Dion Waiters and Scoop, Kris Joseph, all them, make you play with the best of them.’
Jardine said the Orange knew they held matchup advantages at the guard position against UW’s man-to-man. Taylor couldn’t defend two guards at once. Plus, Triche and Waiters, at 205 and 215 pounds, respectively, held size advantages over Taylor, Josh Gasser and Ben Brust, none of whom weigh more than 195 pounds.
SU’s guards penetrated from the beginning, as Triche drove to the hoop on Syracuse’s first possession and made a layup over Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren, drawing a foul on the center in the process.
With Syracuse trailing early, Waiters began to assert his physical advantage on his opponent. He hit a floater over Taylor to put SU up 26-23. Then, on the left wing, his pump fake was too good for Ryan Evans. As Evans tried to recover, Waiters hit a deep 2-pointer to push the Orange’s lead to seven.
‘We played pick your spot,’ Jardine said. ‘There was times (Waiters) had the ball, there was times I had the ball, or Triche. And that’s when we’re playing like that and free like that we’re really hard to beat.’
Jardine picked his spot when he received a screen from Baye Keita at the top of the key. With Keita to his left, Jardine dribbled around the pick.
No center came out to pressure him, and he drilled an open 3, capping an 11-0 Syracuse run to put the Orange ahead 33-23. At the scorer’s table, Triche laughed as the 3 went in, pounding his right fist against the floor.
SU had this defense solved.
‘Their (center) wasn’t really coming up as much on ball screens,’ Triche said. ‘Even on curls he didn’t really help as much, which gave us space to create. And when you give us space, we’re very good players.’
Syracuse’s offense was not on point in the first half in either of its NCAA Tournament games in Pittsburgh. The 33 first-half points the Orange scored against Wisconsin were the most it had scored in a first half since Feb. 25 at Connecticut.
And the Badgers’ stingy defense allowed that many points in the first half just twice in its first 35 games. Syracuse’s offense broke through because of its guard play.
Wisconsin threw the first punch in the second half, cutting what was once a 10-point deficit to one in the first two minutes. Again, guard play played a factor in Syracuse holding off the Badgers.
With Syracuse up 44-40, Jardine drove around a Keita screen on the right wing and cut across the lane, then lofted a right-handed layup as he flew across the basket’s plane.
‘Their big men don’t hedge back, and that’s like a free lane for us guards like myself and Triche and Dion, where we can penetrate and get guys shots,’ Jardine said.
The Orange only had five assists on Thursday, but part of that is because 59 percent of its points came from the guard position. Jardine had four of the five, and said while he was shooting well, he was willing to dish the ball to Waiters, who also had a hot hand for much of the game.
On paper, Wisconsin’s numbers are impressive. But after the game, Waiters didn’t see anything special.
‘I mean, no disrespect to them, but that was one of the easiest defenses that we’ve probably played all year,’ Waiters said. ‘… We can drive and try to take the big man or we can penetrate and get out. It definitely worked in our favor.’
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