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Saturday, March 17, 2012
Previewing Pittsburgh: Saturday's games

By Dana O'Neil



PITTSBURGH -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Saturday’s third-round games at Consol Energy Center:

No. 1 seed Syracuse (32-2) vs. No. 8 Kansas State (22-10), 12:15 p.m. ET

One looks like The Thinker, pensively holding his chin in his hand as he solves the world’s mysteries from his courtside seat.

The other looks like The Incredible Hulk, his eyes narrowing and his veins popping as he flails at the world’s inadequacies from the bench.

Turns out there’s plenty of fire in Jim Boeheim and plenty of calm in Frank Martin.

We just don’t see it.

“I think it’s more behind closed doors,’’ Syracuse junior James Southerland said of Boeheim. “He’ll get after you if you make a mistake or if you’re not playing hard, but honestly, with him, I think you worry more if he’s not yelling at you.’’

The man who has perfected the art of blasť, passing off even the biggest disturbance with a hand flick or shoulder shrug, has built his outer calm over inner fire in 36 years of coaching. Boeheim is the constant.

The players change. The zone gets tinkered, but the coach stays the same.

Like a strict parent, Boeheim can get his players’ attention sometimes without raising his voice.

“I think the level of both of our intensities is high,’’ Boeheim said. “[Martin] may show his level a little more than I do. You know, I wouldn’t want him to be mad at me.’’

But beneath the withering stare, Martin actually is one of the gentler souls in the game. Affable and easy going, he’ll tell stories and poke fun at himself gladly.

On a recruiting visit to the home of Jordan Henriquez, Martin, a Cuban-American, started speaking in Spanish. Only Henriquez didn’t speak it.

“I started rambling off in Spanish because that’s my natural language,’’ Martin said. “I could tell the way he’s looking at me that something wasn’t right. When I finished that great first three or four sentences, he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I don’t speak Spanish.’ You can imagine how I felt.’’

As for the on-court act, one that he promised to try to improve this season when he memorably vowed to clean up his own salty language if his student section would do the same, Martin makes no apologies.

“I’ve got my own way of doing things,’’ he said. “It was the way I was raised. I’m a little emotional. I’m not scared to show my emotion in public. Some guys are real emotional in private and they have a public personality. With me, what you see is what you get.’’

Who to watch: Kansas State’s Jamar Samuels. The Wildcats’ second-leading scorer was in the witness protection program against Southern Miss, making just one free throw and worse, taking zero shots from the floor. That can’t happen again. It puts too much pressure on Rodney McGruder and it doesn’t lead to good results for K-State. In six of the Wildcats’ 10 losses, Samuels failed to score in double digits.

But more critically in this particular game, Kansas State has to get some inside play against the Orange and try to establish Samuels against the replacements in the Syracuse lineup.

Syracuse’s Kris Joseph. The Orange senior is the leading scorer and de facto leader, but hasn’t played like that lately. From the Big East tournament to the NCAA tournament first round, Joseph is just 10-of-33.

That’s got to change, a point of emphasis that even Boeheim has stressed, insisting that the Orange will only go as far as Joseph and Scoop Jardine take them.

What to watch: The 3-point line. Kansas State is not a very good 3-point shooting team, hitting only 34 percent from the arc and making just 5.6 per game. Syracuse played its way to this point with its defense, in particular its defense on the arc. Teams hit only 30 percent on average against the Orange.

Of course much of that was with Fab Melo in the lineup, when the big man’s size allowed Syracuse to really stretch that zone. The Orange got back to that late against UNC Asheville, but that was after the Bulldogs already had done enough damage from the arc to make it a game.

K-State is going to have to drain some 3s in order to crack the zone, but the Orange are going to have to stretch wider, making the middle a little more vulnerable with Rakeem Christmas instead of Melo.

No. 2 seed Ohio State (28-7) vs. No. 7 Gonzaga (26-6), 2:45 p.m. ET

Asked how he thinks Ohio State, his third-round foe, views his team, Robert Sacre smiled.

He then rambled on about how the Buckeyes probably think his team is like the “United Nations, a bunch of guys from all over coming together to make it work,’’ before concluding that he’s certain the Buckeyes respected his team.

Which is true. Ohio State does respect Gonzaga.

But what Sacre danced around, what he wouldn’t say is what everyone always thinks and says about the Zags: they’re soft.

Big Ten equals brawn.

West Coast Conference equals finesses (a euphemism for soft).

“We played two Big Ten teams, Illinois and Michigan State, tough and came out of those, I think, showing who we were,’’ Sacre said. “But everybody expected us to lose those games and everyone still expects us to lose now.’’

The perception really is all wrong. The truth is, Ohio State scores more points than the Zags (75.1 to 74) and shoots better from the floor (48.6 percent to 47 percent), while soft Gonzaga actually outrebounds the Buckeyes (37.1 to 36.8)

And this soft team annually traverses the country to play just about anyone anywhere. Along with those two Big Ten games, Gonzaga this season played Notre Dame, Arizona, Butler and Xavier. Not exactly a pansy schedule.

“There’s nothing we can do about it; it’s the nature of the beast,’’ Sacre said. “All we can do is play basketball.’’

Which brings us to Saturday.

Ohio State will try to ground the more uptempo Zags into the ground and most figure Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas will make life miserable for Elias Harris and Sacre.

If they can stand their ground, they might just be able to rewrite their own script.

Who to watch: Gonzaga’s Harris, who could be the Zags’ X factor. He has to keep track of OSU's Thomas, no easy task considering Thomas just went for a career-high 31, but Harris has the size and athleticism to make it interesting. More critical, with Kevin Pangos trying to get away from Aaron Craft and Sacre preoccupied by Sullinger, Harris needs to score.

Ohio State’s William Buford. For the same reasons as Harris, Buford is an X factor for the Buckeyes. The team’s third-leading scorer can be dominant (he dropped 29 on Purdue) and he can disappear (he came up with just four a night later against Michigan State). In this game, the senior needs to take charge and take advantage if he’s left alone.

What to watch: The frontcourt battle will get a lot of attention, but the game might be won or lost in the backcourt. That’s where Pangos will have to tango with Craft, one of the best defensive point guards in the game. Pangos has been a key offensive component for the Zags this season, averaging 13.8 points per game. They need him to score against the Buckeyes, but more critical, Pangos has to take care of the ball. He’s cut down on his turnovers considerably in recent weeks but has had his share of rough nights against more physical guards -- coughing it up five times against Xavier and Tu Holloway, for example.