Syracuse has really had a storybook season.
The Orange looked great early in the season, but they really began to struggle when James Southerland went out with his academic issues. It didn’t get any easier for the Orange when he got back, as Jim Boeheim struggled to find a way to get his team to buy back into his rotation.
The group was disjointed. There didn’t have much leadership. Their season ended with a 22 point whipping at the hands of arch-nemesis Georgetown. And then there was the 16 point collapse in the Big East tournament title game. And the fire that ripped through Michael Carter-Williams childhood home.
But it all came together for the Orange, as they have no made their way into the Final Four for the first time since Melo had cornrows and wore Orange.
How they got here: Syracuse beat No. 13 seed Montana 81-34 in the opening round, following that up with a win over No. 12 Cal to advance to the Sweet 16. There, in Georgetown’s home arena, Syracuse turned up their defense to a different level, knocking off both Indiana and Marquette and allowing a grand total of just 89 points in the process. It wasn’t pretty. But it worked.
Odds to win the title: 17:4
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Why they can win: That defense. Syracuse has allowed just 0.72 PPP in the NCAA tournament. By contrast, Stephen F. Austin led the nation in PPP defense this season at 0.843. To put that into layman’s terms, in a standard, 64-possession basketball game, Syracuse would be allowing about eight points less, on average, than the stingiest defensive team in the country. SFA plays in the Southland. Syracuse beat Indiana on Thursday. Think about that.
Why they won’t win: Can we fully trust the Syracuse back court yet? Don’t get me wrong, Carter-Williams was simply exceptional this weekend, from both a performance and a leadership standpoint. He scored when he needed to score. He distributed when he needed to distribute. He defended, he rebounded, he did it all. But he’s also been inconsistent this season and is still adapting to that leadership role. Given how much he played last year, hes basically a freshman this season.
Will he be able to handle the pressure of the Final Four? Will Brandon Triche, who has had some turnover and consistency issues late in the season, play well enough to win a national title? Both players have had turnover issues this season. What happens if they get matched up with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith again?
Key stat: 15.2%. 14-92. That’s what opponents are shooting from three against the Orange in the four NCAA tournament games. Think about that. Montana shot 31 threes. Marquette shot 25. Indiana was 3-15 from beyond the arc. Michigan is a team that likes to shoot threes. Is that a recipe for disaster?
Game-changer: James Southerland. He’s the most explosive scorer for the Orange, and he’s also their best perimeter shooter. At 6-foot-8, he’s the perfect fit for Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, but also spreads the floor and creates driving lands for the Cuse guards.
Prediction?: I like the Orange knocking off Michigan, but I don’t think that they would knock off Louisville if they played them for a fourth time in the title game.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.