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Saturday's Elite 8 Action

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Sportsbook.ag Elite 8 Saturday

SYRACUSE ORANGE (29-9) vs. MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES (26-8)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Syracuse -4.5 & 128

A pair of Big East teams will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years when third-seeded Marquette takes on fourth-seeded Syracuse in the East Regional Final on Saturday afternoon in Washington, DC.

The Golden Eagles beat their conference foe in the Round of 32 in 2011 by a 66-62 score, and also won the lone meeting this season, 74-71 on Feb. 25, marking the fifth straight ATS win in this series (3-2 SU). In that game, Syracuse led by 10 points with 2:00 left in the first half, but Marquette outscored the Orange 55 to 42 in the final 22 minutes, thanks to PF Davante Gardner's career-high 26 points. But Syracuse, which just knocked off top-seeded Indiana on Thursday, has played as well as any team in the NCAA Tournament, winning by 21.3 PPG and holding its three opponents to 48.0 PPG on 31.2% FG. Syracuse is now 6-1 SU (4-3 ATS) in the postseason and 7-2 SU (5-4 ATS) on a neutral court this season. The Golden Eagles squeaked by both of their first two tourney opponents, edging 14th-seeded Davidson by one point on a Vander Blue lay-up with one second left in regulation, then prevailing by two points over sixth-seeded Butler when the Bulldogs' last-second shot was way off the mark. However, Marquette crushed Miami by 10 points on Thursday to improve to 9-2 SU in its past 11 games and 5-2 SU (4-3 ATS) on a neutral court this season.

Syracuse's 2-3 zone has really bothered its past six opponents, holding them to 56.0 PPG on 35.0% FG, with none of the six teams making even one-third of their three-point attempts. Indiana entered Thursday's game with 79.5 PPG, 49% FG and 41% threes (all among top-6 teams in nation), but Syracuse limited the Hoosiers to 50 points on 33% FG and 3-of-15 threes. That improved the Orange's national ranks in scoring defense to 26th (59.1 PPG), shooting defense to third (37.2% FG) and three-point defense to fourth (28.7% threes). Syracuse also tallied 12 steals and 10 blocks versus Indiana, improving those areas to 6.2 BPG (5th in nation) and 9.1 SPG (13th in D-I). This team continues to go as far as PG Michael Carter-Williams (12.1 PPG) will allow it to. The 6-foot-6 sophomore ranks third in the nation in assists (7.5 APG) and fifth in steals (2.74 SPG). He scored a game-high 24 points on Thursday with six rebounds and four steals. But not all is well with Carter-Williams, who has just four helpers and seven turnovers combined in his past two games, and has made a pathetic 10-of-28 free throws (36%) in the past five contests. Senior SG Brandon Triche (13.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.5 APG) has committed way too many turnovers in the past four games (4.5 TOPG), but bounced back from a 1-of-8 shooting night in the Round of 32 to score 14 points on 6-of-12 FG versus Indiana. The backcourt duo played pretty well in Milwaukee last month with a combined 22 points and 13 assists, but also committed seven turnovers. PF C.J. Fair (14.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG) was the team's best player in that loss at Marquette with 20 points (8-of-11 FG) and seven rebounds. The team's top scorer and rebounder has also played pretty well in the NCAA Tournament with 14.0 PPG (47% FG) and 5.7 RPG. Senior PF James Southerland (13.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is the best shooter for the Orange at 41% threes, but hasn't shot much during the tourney, going 8-for-19 FG (4-of-10 threes) in the three games combined. In the Big East Tournament, Southerland made 19-of-33 threes (58%) in the four games. He has certainly focused his energy on the defensive end though, with 8.0 RPG and 3.0 SPG in the past two wins. Neither Triche, Fair nor Southerland played very well in the 2011 NCAA Tournament loss to Marquette, as Triche produced eight points and four turnovers, Fair had as many fouls as points (four each) and Southerland scored seven points on 1-of-4 threes.

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Marquette is not a team that likes to play high-scoring games, tallying just 68.9 PPG (133rd in nation) and allowing 62.8 PPG (75th in D-I). But this is a very smart and efficient team that rarely takes bad shots, making 46.3% FG (38th in nation). The Golden Eagles make just 4.2 threes per game (18th-fewest in D-I), but get a lot of their points by crashing the glass for easy put-backs (+4.5 RPG margin, 44th in nation). After getting outshot in their first two NCAA Tournament wins, Marquette made 54% FG versus Miami, and held the 'Canes to 35% FG. If this game comes down to which team makes its foul shots, the Golden Eagles will certainly like their chances, as they shoot 72.9% FT (57th in nation), making 14-of-19 free throws on Thursday. Syracuse hits just 67.7% FT (228th in D-I) this season. Marquette's most valuable player continues to be junior SG Vander Blue (14.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG) who after winning the Davidson game with his 16th point (5-of-15 FG), has pumped in 21.5 PPG on 59% FG with 3.0 SPG. Blue has made 5-of-10 threes in the Big Dance, while burying all 12 of his free-throw attempts. Three other Golden Eagles players joined Blue in double-figures on Thursday, as PF Jamil Wilson (9.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG) scored 16 points with eight boards, PF Davante Gardner (11.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting and C Chris Otule (5.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG) netted 11 points in just 15 minutes. Although Wilson (14.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG in NCAA Tournament) made just 3-of-12 shots (1-of-8 threes) versus Syracuse last month, he still finished with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Gardner was a flawless 7-of-7 FG and near-perfect 12-of-13 FT in that game, and also pulled down eight rebounds (four offensive) in the best game of his career. PG Junior Cadougan (8.6 PPG, 3.9 APG) also played well in that win over the Orange with 12 points, four steals, three assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes. He also had nine points, three assists and only one turnover in the 2011 NCAA Tournament win over Syracuse. But Cadougan has not run the offense particularly well in this current Big Dance, producing only three assists with six turnovers in the three contests combined.

WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS (29-8) vs. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (29-7)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Ohio State -4.5 & 131

Ninth-seeded Wichita State has one more hurdle in its quest for a Final Four berth, when it faces a second-seeded Ohio State team that has earned a spot in Saturday's Elite Eight game thanks to last-second heroics in two straight games.

While the Shockers have hammered their three NCAA Tournament opponents by an average of 12.7 PPG, the Buckeyes have won their past two contests with game-winning three-pointers in the closing seconds of each victory. That gives them 11 straight SU victories (8-3 ATS). Points could be at a premium in Staples Center, as Wichita State has held all three of its NCAA tourney opponents under 36% FG, while scoring at least 72 points in all three victories. Ohio State has actually allowed 70+ points to all three of its games in the Big Dance, but gives up a mere 59.1 PPG on 39.6% FG for the entire season. The Shockers are now 8-1 SU (6-3 ATS) on a neutral court this season, outscoring these opponents by 10.3 PPG, while the Buckeyes are 8-0 SU (5-3 ATS) and beating teams by 10.5 PPG on a neutral court. WSU is 4-2 (SU and ATS) in the underdog role, while OSU is 17-12 ATS (59%) when favored, but just 2-3 ATS when favored outside of Columbus.

Wichita State continues to win with a hard-nosed defense that allows only 60.7 PPG on 39.6% FG and 32.5% threes. In Thursday's win, it held La Salle to 22 first-half points and 35.7% shooting for the game. The Shockers dominated the Explorers on the glass with a 47-29 rebounding advantage, increasing their season margin to +8.1 RPG (7th-best in nation). The offense hasn't been great this season (69.8 PPG on 44.3% FG and 33.8% threes), but it has been clicking during the tournament with 73.7 PPG, including 19-of-40 threes (48%) over the past two games. The Shockers are able to stay fresh and hound opponents on defense because head coach Gregg Marshall gives 11 of his players at least 11 MPG. The three double-digit scorers are junior SF Cleanthony Early (13.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and seniors PF Carl Hall (12.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and PG Malcolm Armstead (10.8 PPG, 4.0 APG, 3.8 RPG). Early had just 5.0 PPG on 5-of-21 FG in three games leading up to the tourney, but has stepped up in a big way in NCAA play with 15.0 PPG on 46% FG and 7.0 RPG. The 6-foot-8 Hall was the team's best player on Thursday with 16 points (7-of-11 FG), eight rebounds and three blocks, increasing his tourney averages to 11.7 PPG (57% FG), 5.0 RPG and 2.0 BPG. Armstead shot poorly in the Round of 32 against Gonzaga (2-of-9 FG, 1-of-6 threes), but was outstanding versus La Salle on Thursday with 18 points (7-of-15 FG), six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Freshman SG Ron Baker (8.6 PPG) was 0-for-5 against Pittsburgh to start the tournament, but hasn't missed much in the past two games, scoring 14.5 PPG on 9-of-13 FG (69%), including 6-of-9 from three-point range, to go along with 5.0 RPG and 3.0 APG.

Ohio State usually relies on an outstanding defense, giving up only 59.1 PPG (24th in D-I) on 39.6% FG (41st in nation) this season. But it has been the offense that has put the Buckeyes one win away from the Final Four, averaging 82.0 PPG on 47.1% FG in the three NCAA wins, numbers much greater than their 70.3 PPG (100th in D-I) on 45.5% shooting for the season. OSU has been incredibly efficient in handling the basketball, averaging just 9.2 TOPG during its 11-game win streak, including 8.2 TOPG in the past five victories, turning the ball over 10 times or less in each of the five contests during this span. The Buckeyes are able to protect the basketball so well with two top-notch point guards in Aaron Craft (10.1 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Shannon Scott (4.9 PPG, 3.9 APG) who are the biggest reasons why the team commits just 10.5 TOPG (8th in nation). Scott's 3.11 Ast/TO ratio this season ranks second among all Division-I players, while Craft's 2.46 Ast/TO ratio is 24th-best in the nation. Craft hasn't made the best decisions late in the past two games with costly turnovers and missed free throws, but he did win last Sunday's Round of 32 contest with a three-pointer in the closing seconds. Craft also finished Thursday's game against Arizona with a well-rounded 13 points, five rebounds and five assists. Although Craft has 15.5 PPG in the past two games, the team needs him to focus mostly on setting up the offense, which isn't easy against the tenacious Shockers. Sophomore PF LaQuinton Ross (8.0 PPG) was the hero on Thursday with a game-winning three-pointer with two seconds left, giving him 17 points for the second consecutive game. At 6-foot-8, he could present a big matchup problem for the smallish Shockers. The bulk of the team's scoring belongs to junior PF Deshaun Thomas (19.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG), who has 22.0 PPG on 58% FG in the NCAA Tournament so far. He was also vital to his team's Final Four run last year, averaging 19.2 PPG and 7.6 RPG in the five tourney games. However, Thomas will have to do a better job of rebounding against a WSU opponent that is fierce on the boards, as Thomas has just 3.0 RPG in the three NCAA wins. SG Lenzelle Smith Jr. (9.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG) is the team's third-leading scorer, but he has been ice-cold all month, averaging just 6.1 PPG on 33.9% FG in eight March games. He's just 4-of-13 from the floor in the past two contests, but he did pull down eight rebounds against Arizona. However, high-flying SF Sam Thompson (7.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG) has been huge in the past six games, averaging 12.2 PPG on 58% FG, while grabbing 7.0 RPG in the three NCAA matchups.

  
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