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Preview: Sunday in Cleveland

3/20/2011

CLEVELAND -- The four remaining teams in this East Region pod know how to move on in March. All four have been to a Final Four since 2003, and three of them have national championship trophies encased in glass back home.

Beyond that, we've got the top overall seed (Ohio State) taking on a mid-major power (George Mason). Then it's a Big East grudge match between Syracuse and Marquette in which the lower seed had the upper hand earlier this season.

Let's rock and roll in Cleveland.

No. 8 George Mason (27-6) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (33-2), 5:15 p.m. ET

What to watch: The 3-point arc. Ohio State has been on fire from the outside lately, and the Buckeyes are nearly impossible to beat when William Buford and Jon Diebler are as dialed in as they've been from 3-point range. George Mason was a good shooting team this season (39.4 percent on 3s) but struggled with shot selection against Villanova. The Patriots were able to turn that into a defensive slugfest, but that's probably not going to work against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are holding opponents to 32 percent shooting on 3s in four postseason games.

Who to watch: Jared Sullinger didn't have to do a whole lot in the romp against Texas San-Antonio on Friday, but the Ohio State big man will be a key player against George Mason. The Patriots had a hard time keeping Nova's post players off the glass in the last round, and Sullinger is much more of a load than any of those Wildcats. George Mason will have to clamp down on Buford and Diebler like they did against the Wildcats' Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher in the second half while still accounting for Sullinger inside.

You can bet the Bucks will keep a close eye on George Mason guard Luke Hancock, who had 18 points and the clinching 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in Friday's win against Villanova. Forward Mike Morrison also had a big game on Friday, and the Patriots will need the 6-foot-9 junior to help contain Sullinger.

Why to watch: George Mason is tired of the 2006 comparisons, but that Final Four team beat some of the sport's heavyweights on its way to glory, including a No. 1 seed in UConn. This team will have to take the same path through a powerful Ohio State club that is firing on all cylinders. And the crowd will be heavily on the Buckeyes' side.

What they're saying: "I don't think you want to be an underdog. You probably want to be in Ohio State's position of being the No. 1 overall [seed]. But we're ready to play against a good team. We have confidence in ourselves. We're not worried about being called the underdog." -- George Mason's Hancock.

"Our defense needs to be at its very best on first shots. We've got to limit second shots. But the biggest thing is, based on the way we played yesterday, we've really got to encourage our guys to understand that we're going to have to put the ball in the basket [Sunday]." -- George Mason coach Jim Larranaga

"With us, it's pick your poison. Whatever you want to do, we have a way to counter it." -- Ohio State's Dallas Lauderdale.

"I think they're kind of similar to us. They've got a lot of different guys that can do a lot of different things, from driving the ball, to 3-point shooting, to post-ups. They've got a lot of trigger-pullers within the course of their offense. They do a good job moving the basketball. I think that's the big key -- you have to defend all five guys. And with a one-day prep, you've got to have a great understanding of what all five guys on the floor are capable of doing, because, as I said, they're multi-dimensional players." -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta.

Of note: A win by George Mason would set the school single-season record for victories. The 2006 Final Four team won 27 games. ... Sunday is the winter graduation ceremony at Ohio State, and Diebler, David Lighty and Lauderdale all earned their degrees last week. They'll be a bit too busy to walk in the ceremony, however. ... Watch the pace. Ohio State is 23-0 when scoring at least 75 points. George Mason is 3-5 when opponents score at least 70.

No. 11 Marquette (21-14) vs. No. 3 Syracuse (27-7), approx. 7:40 p.m. ET

What to watch: We went to Cleveland, and a Big East tournament semifinal broke out. These teams might be league rivals, but because the Big East is so big, it's not like they play each other all the time. In fact, they met only once this season, and Marquette won 76-70 back on Jan. 29. The Golden Eagles guards penetrated the Orange's 2-3 zone and got to the rim, shooting 33 free throws and getting the Syracuse post players in foul trouble. They even outrebounded the Orange that night in Milwaukee. Syracuse has a distinct size advantage, but Marquette hopes to neutralize that with quickness.

Who to watch: Syracuse's Rick Jackson had a big night against Indiana State on Friday with 23 points and seven rebounds. Marquette doesn't have many guys who can match his 6-foot-9, 240-pound body. But Golden Eagles forward Jae Crowder had 25 points and seven rebounds in the first matchup of the Orange.

Guards Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom will be key for Marquette against the zone. Syracuse guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche will have to do a good job handling the Golden Eagles' pressure on the perimeter and slowing down Butler and Johnson-Odom.

Why to watch: Syracuse is a dangerous tournament team because of its length in that zone, which can overwhelm unfamiliar opponents. But Marquette knows the zone and is coming off a terrific performance against Xavier on Friday night. This might be an 11 vs. 3 matchup on paper, but this has all the makings of a hard-fought, Big East-style game.

What they're saying: "You've got to move the ball more than once, and we can't fall into taking quick shots. The key thing is to get it in the middle or behind the zone. We pretty much know where we can get into the gaps and make plays for each other, by us already having seen it." -- Marquette guard Dwight Buycks

"The first time around, our defense wasn't as good as it is now. Our defense is much improved, and it should mess them up a little because we'll be quicker in getting to spots we weren't able to get to in the game we lost to them." -- Syracuse guard Brandon Triche.

"I told one of our assistants, when we were leaving [Madison Square] Garden, after Louisville beat us the [in the Big East tournament], I'm so thankful that we don't have to talk about or prepare or play against a Big East program until next Christmas. And so on Sunday we're doing the Selection Show and they show Xavier first, they're the higher seed, then they show us. Everybody's like rah, rah, rah. And then the next team that pops up is Syracuse." -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams.

Of note: The Jan. 29 game was the last of a four-game losing streak for Syracuse. Orange players said their strong second-half effort in that game helped them get their season back on track by playing with more effort. ... Marquette has lost its second game in the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years and hasn't won two games since the 2003 Final Four run. ... If Marquette hits a big 3, you can be sure to see players making the "3-point goggles" gesture. The Golden Eagles claim to be the first college team to adopt the new trend, which started with the Portland Trail Blazers this season. Marquette grad Wesley Matthews told the Golden Eagles about it, and they have run with it. The goggles made an appearance in Friday's win against Xavier.

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