|Jared Sullinger didn't have a dominating sophomore campaign, but now, none of that matters. (US Presswire)|
BOSTON -- It was the matchup everyone wanted.
Top-seeded Syracuse vs. No. 2 Ohio State with a Final Four berth on the line. Jim Boeheim and the depth and mental resolve of the Orange against Jared Sullinger and the somewhat enigmatic Buckeyes.
The 'Cuse had managed to exceed all expectations and off-court distractions this season and enter the NCAA tournament with just a pair of setbacks. The players were unfazed by the Bernie Fine allegations and didn't seem overly concerned about the report that former players were allowed to play despite failed drug tests.
However, the Fab Melo suspension just prior to the NCAA tournament may have finally caught up with the Orange against Ohio State. Sullinger played sparingly in the first half -- less than seven minutes -- due to foul trouble. However, he was dominant in the second half and the Buckeyes got a huge lift from role player Lenzelle Smith.
Syracuse's ride ended shy of the Final Four for the ninth consecutive year while an Ohio State team that has been erratic all year long is back for the first time since losing to Florida in the 2007 national championship game.
Regional MVP: Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State - Was sensational in the first half against Cincinnati with 20 points before the break. He has taken a back seat all year to teammate Jared Sullinger, but Thomas scored 89 points in four games and is even providing solid defensive play. Thomas finished with 14 points and nine boards in the win over Syracuse in the Elite Eight.
- Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
- Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
- Lenzelle Smith, Ohio State
- Scoop Jardine, Syracuse
- Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
Game to remember: Syracuse 64, Wisconsin 63 - This Sweet 16 matchup came down to the wire -- as Badgers senior guard Jordan Taylor missed on a difficult 3-pointer at the buzzer. Bo Ryan's team was 14-of-27 from beyond the arc, but couldn't make any in the final few minutes. Wisconsin led with a little more than six minutes remaining and, after Kris Joseph's missed free throw, the Badgers had one final shot to win it. However, Taylor couldn't get a good look on a trifecta with three seconds left.
Game to forget: Gonzaga 77, West Virginia 54 - The 'Zags were supposed to lose this one since it was in Pittsburgh - an hour or so down the road from West Virginia's campus. Instead, it was a laugher. Mark Few's team broke this game open midway through the first half and it was never in question the rest of the way. The score was 27-10 at the eight-minute timeout. Bob Huggins' team is led by star senior forward Kevin Jones, but he doesn't have much else -- and the Mountaineers couldn't stop Gonzaga on the defensive end. Jones was held in check with just 13 points and four rebounds in 40 minutes.
Biggest disappointment: Florida State - The lone team among the top four seeds that failed to get to Boston. The Seminoles came in hot, after winning the ACC tournament, but couldn't get past Cincinnati in the third round. This was a veteran team that will lose six seniors and this may have been Leonard Hamilton's best shot at going to a Final Four in Tallahassee.
Best individual performance in a losing effort: Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure -- The Canadian senior, who played so well down the stretch to get the Bonnies into the NCAA tournament, finished his career with his head held high. Nicholson went for 20 points and grabbed seven boards against a mammoth and athletic Florida State frontline. The Seminoles wound up with a 66-63 victory in the round of 64.
Most memorable moments
- Dion Dixon's steal and dunk with 1:32 remaining put Cincinnati ahead for good in the upset win over Florida State.
- There's no one you'd rather have shooting a game-winning 3-pointer than Vanderbilt's John Jenkins. However, he missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds against Wisconsin that would have given the Commodores the win.
- Jamar Samuels suspension. Kansas State suspended their senior forward for the loss to Syracuse just prior to the game for receiving a $200 wire transfer from his former summer basketball coach.
- Syracuse trailing at halftime against UNC Asheville and then needed the help of the zebras to advance. First, there was the missed goaltending call in the second half, but it was the call in which the refs awarded possession to Syracuse despite the ball clearly going out of bounds off Brandon Triche that drew the ire fans. It occurred with 34 seconds left and the 'Cuse in front by three points.
- Wisconsin senior Jordan Taylor missing a difficult 3-pointer with seconds left that would have knocked off Syracuse.
- Syracuse fifth-year senior Scoop Jardine bawling in the back hallway of the TD Banknorth Garden after the 'Cuse came up short against Ohio State.
Team to watch out for next year: Texas. The Longhorns have a chance to be a Top 25 team -- as long as guards J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo return to school. Rick Barnes has some talented young guys though - freshmen Sheldom McClellan, Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond. All received valuable experience in their first season in Austin and will be better for it next year.