The Syracuse Orange confounded the Indiana Hoosiers with coach Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone, but can they outmaneuver and outplay Big East Conference foe Marquette on Saturday?


Syracuse can win because…

It is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time of year – especially at the defensive end of the floor. Syracuse was not particularly elegant on offense in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament against Indiana on Thursday. The Orange hit only four three-point shots, committed 14 turnovers, and missed a number of layups to keep Indiana within striking distance until the final two minutes of regulation time. However, Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense was executed to perfection by a 

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team that is long and rangy at most spots on the floor. The Orange managed to pinch Indiana at the top of the 2-3 zone, extending on Indiana's perimeter shooters so that they could not gain a free shooting hand. A misperception about the zone defense is that it wants teams to shoot threes. That's not always the point of a zone; it is on some occasions, but not all of them. In particular contexts, a zone can be intended to make it hard for interior players to post up and play a back-to-the-basket game. This was Syracuse's intended approach, designed to limit the effectiveness of Indiana big man Cody Zeller. The plan worked to perfection, with Zeller being unable to understand or attack the zone correctly.

What added to Syracuse's defensive effectiveness, though, was that while the guards pinched well at the top of the key, big men such as James Southerland and Baye Keita were very aggressive in denying shots near the rim. The two men combined for five blocked shots on a night when the Orange collected 10 blocked shots altogether. Syracuse has been a soft team for much of the season but it played some very rugged interior defense against Indiana, which is why they covered the NCAA basketball odds. With this same defensive performance against Marquette, Syracuse will win.

Marquette can win because…

The Golden Eagles are flourishing right now, playing exactly how they want to play at both ends of the floor. Marquette dominated a talented and experienced Miami team for 40 full minutes on Thursday and upended a lot of peoples NCAA basketball picks. The Golden Eagles did pretty much anything and everything they wanted to do. They hit three-point shots, grabbed a vast majority of loose balls, contested just about every shot Miami put up, rotated crisply on defense and they attacked the rim. They broke Miami's full-court press like it was nothing and they adjusted well to every maneuver Miami made. Marquette is also playing with the liberation of a team that knows it got lucky in the round of 64 against Davidson, when it was outplayed but found a way to steal a win in the final minute of regulation. That kind of escape can often change the psychology of a team for the better. Marquette has been transformed in the best way possible.

Sweet 16 and Elite 8 Seeding Trends

While Syracuse watched Indiana implode on Thursday night, Marquette actually played at an even higher level than the Orange, because it sustained a solid performance at the offensive end of the floor. Syracuse's win was more based on its defense alone. Marquette has more balance than Syracuse does, at least at the moment. If Marquette continues to hit perimeter shots, Syracuse simply won't have enough answers for the Golden Eagles.

Outlook & College Basketball Betting Prediction:

People making their sports picks should expect this game to be close because it's a matchup of familiar teams who don't need elaborate scouting reports. Syracuse will have more fans in Washington, D.C., but Marquette is playing better at both ends of the floor. Marquette will cover the absurdly large point spread, and it will win outright as well for this NCAAB Pick.

College Basketball Pick: Marquette +5.5 at Bovada