03/22/2012 01:13 pm ET Updated May 22, 2012

Wisconsin Matches Up Well With the Orange

Come Thursday evening, two of college basketball's more distinct brands of play will collide in Boston.

The slower-paced swing offense instilled at Wisconsin by Bo Ryan will be tasked with navigating the 2-3 zone defense, the signature approach of Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, and the engagement should create one of the more interesting matchups in the Sweet 16 field.

The 2-3 zone leaves any defense vulnerable to offensive rebounds -- and Syracuse is no exception -- but the Orange have been able to compensate for their lack of rebounding with a nosey defense that produces 9.4 steals per game and a turnover margin of plus-5.8, good for third and second-best in the nation, respectively.

But Wisconsin is as gold of a standard in ball protection as Syracuse is at thievery, as the Badgers are second in the country with nine turnovers per game. Even point guard Jordan Taylor, who carries the ball far and away more than any of his teammates and draws the most attention, has a top 20 assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.56.

If Taylor and the Badgers can take advantage of offensive rebounds and protect the ball, Wisconsin can greatly improve its chances of being the first to take out a No. 1 seed. And should the Badgers shoot particularly well Thursday, the Orange will find themselves in a tight spot difficult to emerge from.

Syracuse defends the paint well, even with the absence of Fab Melo, but leaves its perimeter susceptible, which fits neatly into Wisconsin's offensive design. Nearly 40 percent of the Badgers' shots originate from downtown even though they aren't exactly marksmen from the beyond the arc -- hitting 36.2 percent on the year.

But literally everyone in the Wisconsin rotation has the capability of hitting multiple threes a game, and when they catch fire the offense suddenly becomes insurmountable. The Badgers are 15-0 when they sink nine or more threes in a game -- and they've hit 10 in both tournament wins so far.

But Syracuse has a much deeper pool of talent to choose from. With Melo sidelined, Boeheim still has nine players who log at least 10 minutes per game and his bench scores at a comparable rate to the starting five.

Meanwhile, Ryan has seven players averaging 10 or more minutes and only one reserve, guard Ben Brust, scores more than four points a game.

With less interchangeable parts, Wisconsin may not have a great margin of error, but its offense has nevertheless caught stride since the tournament's opening tip, hitting 44.6 percent of its field goals.

Elliot Hughes is the sports editor at The Badger Herald, the nation's largest fully independent student newspaper. It is distributed five days a week on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and can be found at Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism and philosophy. He's from Plymouth, Wisconsin.