(The Sports Network)
The East Region of the 2011 NCAA Tournament features a third-round matchup between the 11th-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles and the third-seeded Syracuse Orange.
The winner of this contest will earn a spot in the "Sweet 16" where it will take on either second-seeded North Carolina or seventh-seeded Washington.
Marquette certainly didn't look the part of an underdog in Friday's matchup with sixth-seeded Xavier, as the club rolled to a 66-55 victory. The Golden Eagles are making their 29th NCAA Tournament appearance and own a 35-29 record in the event. They won the national title back in 1977, their lone NCAA championship. Head coach Buzz Peterson has led this group to a 21-14 overall record, and Marquette is one of 11 teams to earn a bid to this tournament from the Big East Conference, an unprecedented figure.
Also a member of the loaded Big East, Syracuse rolled to a 77-60 decision over 14th-seeded Indiana State on Friday. The club had won six consecutive games before falling to UConn in overtime in the Big East Conference Tournament, but the impressive showing against the Sycamores quickly erased any lingering feelings of disappointment. The Orange won their lone NCAA Tournament title back in 2003, and the program is 53-33 in 34 appearances in the "Big Dance". Syracuse has reached the "Sweet 16" the last two seasons, and head coach Jim Boeheim has the level of talent necessary to extend that run to three years.
Expect Marquette to play with confidence today, as it beat Syracuse on January 29th by a 76-70 final in the only regular season meeting between the two teams. Still, the Orange own a 7-3 advantage in the all-time series.
Overall this season, Marquette is scoring 75.8 ppg while allowing 68.7 ppg to opponents. Darius Johnson-Odom is the top scorer for the Golden Eagles with 16.0 ppg, and the fact that he scored 17.2 ppg versus Big East competition during the regular season is impressive. Jimmy Butler checks in with 15.9 ppg, and Jae Crowder adds 11.7 ppg. Against Xavier on Friday, Marquette played extremely efficient ball at the offensive end of the court, shooting 53.3 percent from the floor. At the defensive end, the Golden Eagles were able to hold the Musketeers to 41.2 percent shooting, including a dismal 2-of-13 effort from three-point range. Johnson-Odom tallied 19 points in 32 minutes of action, and Butler pitched in 15 points. As for Crowder, he provided 10 points in 29 minutes of action off the bench.
Balance at the offensive end and strong team defense have been the ingredients to success for Syracuse this season. There are four double-digit scorers in the fold, and Kris Joseph leads the pack with 14.3 ppg. Rick Jackson, the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, has blocked 85 shots and rips down 10.5 rpg to go along with his 13.3 ppg. Scoop Jardine adds 12.7 ppg and 199 assists, while Brandon Triche contributes 11.2 ppg. The Orange are generating 73.7 ppg while holding opponents to 63.2 ppg on 39.4 percent field goal efficiency. Jackson poured in 23 points for Syracuse in the 17-point win over Indiana State on Friday. C.J. Fair tallied 14 points off the bench, and Joseph contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Orange connected on 52.3 percent of their field goal attempts in the affair and earned a 35-25 rebounding advantage. A 24-9 edge in points from the foul line also helped the cause.
The Orange will dispose of Marquette, as Jackson will be too much to handle on the interior. This Syracuse squad has the talent to beat any team in this tournament.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Syracuse 78, Marquette 70