East preview: Syracuse vs. Wisconsin

BOSTON -- Like so many other kids who grew up in and around Philadelphia, Bo Ryan made the in-season pilgrimage to the Palestra.

There, he would watch legendary Big 5 coaches such as Harry Litwack and Jack Ramsay and Jack Kraft ply their trade. He was just a kid, awed by the games and the coaches but he was also a future coach, mesmerized by the strategy and tactics.

“You talk about zones and you go to the Palestra when you’re 10 years old, 11 or 12 and you’re watching ball movement and body movement," Ryan said. “Those guys were so good in how they taught and how they cut and how they used skip passes."

Now the Wisconsin coach is hoping for a little osmosis.

His Badgers will face top-seeded Syracuse and the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone in the Sweet 16 on Thursday (7:15 p.m. ET).

Wisconsin doesn’t face a whole lot of zone in the Big Ten, but when the Badgers do, they’re pretty effective against it. So far in the tournament, Wisconsin is shooting 46 percent against zone defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information, including a tournament-best 47 percent from the 3-point arc.

The Badgers will need that and more against Syracuse to win.

“It’s nothing we haven’t seen," Jordan Taylor said. “We’ve all been playing basketball for years now. I know their 2-3 zone is a little different with the length that they throw at you, but it’s really no different.’’

Of course, the simplest way to beat a zone, as Ryan learned in those childhood Palestra visits, is to hit shots.

Wisconsin is fortunate in that it has plenty of guys who are comfortable shooting from outside.

The trick is to find guys who can connect.

“If you’re not hitting shots it gets in your head sometimes, then it’s kind of a multiplier effect -- 'Oh, am I going to make the next one?'’’ Ryan said. “We’ve watched every game that Syracuse has played and you’ve just got to work the ball, use good ball and body movement, and when you do get those shots, just believe they can go in.’’

Who to watch

Syracuse’s Dion Waiters: The Big East’s sixth man of the year is always critical for the Orange, but never more so than in the tournament. Against Kansas State, Syracuse was plus-17 with Waiters in the game and minus-1 without him.

“They have guys that could score 20," Ryan said. “They have probably more guys that could score 20 than most teams that you’re going to play.’’

Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor: The senior point guard is not just the Badgers’ best scorer, he’s also their best ball handler. His 2.99 assists-to-turnover ratio will likely blister the NCAA record.

That’s critical because no one in the country capitalizes on mistakes better than the Orange. Syracuse gets 27 percent of its offense off turnovers, using miscues to start its break.

“He’s one of the best guards in the country," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Taylor.

What to watch

The pace. Few teams have been able to force tempo against the deliberate Badgers. Wisconsin averages only 59.2 possessions per game, the fewest in the country, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to trouble scoring. Wisconsin still scores 66.7 points per game.

All that is key for a Syracuse team that is especially strong on the break. Syracuse can and will score in a half-court set, but if the Orange can up the tempo on the Badgers, things could quickly get dicey for Wisconsin.