Final Four Preview: What you need to know about Syracuse

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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

Read through all of our Final Four coverage here

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.

VIDEO: Auburn’s 5-11 Jared Harper posterized Xavier

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Jared Harper might have the best poster dunk for a player under 6-feet this season.

When the No. 8 Tigers on the ropes against Xavier in the opener of the Maui Invitational, Harper made a huge play in overtime that helped ensure that Auburn would pull away with the win.

It was this:

VIDEO: Zion Williamson’s windmill defies the laws of physics

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Get used to seeing posts like this: Zion Williamson dunks making the highlight reel.

This might have been his best to date, a windmill that came off of a steal in Duke’s 90-64 win over San Diego State in the opening game of the Maui Invitational:

To really get an appreciation for this dunk, you have to look at the entirety of the picture at the top of this post. The faces … they know what they are seeing:

(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

No. 1 Duke routs San Diego State 90-64 in Maui

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LAHAINA, Hawaii — R.J. Barrett scored 20 points, Cam Reddish added 16 and top-ranked Duke remained undefeated at the Maui Invitational with a 90-64 rout over San Diego State.

The Blue Devils (4-0) shot 52 percent, made 10 of 25 from 3-point range and improved to 16-0 in Maui while earning a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against No. 8 Auburn.

Duke has been the talk of college basketball since its highly-touted freshmen shot the season out of a canon with a blowout win over then-No. 2 Kentucky. The five-time Maui champion Blue Devils arrived in paradise the favorites and played like it against the Aztecs (2-1).

Despite front-court foul trouble in the first half — Zion Williamson played seven minutes — Duke took control with an 11-0 run and led 49-32 by halftime behind Barrett’s 16 points.

The Blue Devils kept the runaway going with an early 8-0 run in the second half, building the lead to 71-46 on Williamson’s breakaway windmill dunk. Williamson had 13 points in 18 minutes.

Devin Watson had 15 points to lead San Diego State (2-1).

No. 8 Auburn outlasts Xavier 88-79 in Maui

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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Bryce Brown scored 26 points, Jared Harper added 25 and No. 8 Auburn outlasted Xavier 88-79 in overtime to open the Maui Invitational.

The Tigers (4-0) shot poorly from the perimeter early and had a hard time shaking the new-look Musketeers (2-2), missing badly on a shot to win it in regulation.

Auburn took control in the overtime behind its defense, outscoring Xavier 11-2. The Tigers scored 31 points off Xavier’s 22 turnovers overall to earn a spot in the semifinals against the Duke-San Diego State winner.

Ryan Welage had 17 points and Paul Scruggs 16 for the Musketeers.

Auburn had a five-point lead with a minute left in regulation, but Naj Marshall made a 3-pointer from the wing to pull the Musketeers within 77-75.

Xavier tied it at 77-all with 26 seconds left in regulation on Tyrique Jones’ two free throws and Brown’s last-second shot came up well short.

Villanova, Syracuse fall out of Top 25 poll as Duke, Kansas stay on top

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Two of college basketball’s bluebloods remained firmly entrenched atop the AP Top 25 after a week of easy wins, while two more tumbled all the way out after a week filled with defeats.

One of them happens to be the reigning national champion.

While top-ranked Duke and No. 2 Kansas did little to hurt their status as early national title contenders, Villanova and Syracuse slid all the way out of the Top 25 on Monday. The Wildcats lost a rematch of last year’s championship game with Michigan, then lost in overtime to Furman on Saturday to give coach Jay Wright’s team back-to-back losses for the first time in five years.

The Wildcats had risen to No. 8 last week. They were among those receiving votes this week.

“We’re trying to work out a lot of chemistry things with our team. We have a lot of new guys,” Villanova guard Phil Booth said. “We’re trying to play more together and figure things out.”

Indeed, the Wildcats are trying to replace key players Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman after last year’s championship run. But while a strong recruiting class is trying to find its way, the Wildcats are off to a 2-2 start for the first time since 1997.

They’re also the first national champion to start 2-2 since UCLA in 1995.

The Wildcats weren’t the only big-time program to take a tumble this week. Syracuse dropped from No. 15 out of the poll after losing to Connecticut and Oregon in the 2k Classic.

“We have to play better offensively we’re going to be successful. Our defense is nowhere near the point it was last year. That’s something that also has to get better,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team is 2-2 for the first time since the 1987-88 season. “There’s no doubt we have a lot of work to do. We’re a long ways away.”

The top five remained unchanged with Duke remained the clear No. 1, receiving 53 of 63 first-place votes after blowing out Eastern Michigan. Kansas was second with seven first-place votes after wins over Vermont and Louisiana-Lafayette, followed by Gonzaga, Virginia and Tennessee.

“I think in the past few days we grew up a bit more,” said Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team played San Diego State in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday.

Gonzaga (3-0) and eighth-ranked Auburn (3-0) are also in the tournament.

“It’s a great field,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re playing three straight days, which will never happen otherwise during the season, so success or failure there has to be looked at a little bit closer. It’s a great opportunity for competition, and there are some big-time teams in the tournament, which usually there are when we’re in the tournament.”

AT THE TOP

The only major movement in the top 10 involved Villanova dropping out and Michigan (5-0) climbing from No. 18 to ninth. Nevada (3-0) remained sixth and North Carolina (4-0) seventh. Auburn moved up one spot and Kentucky (3-1) rounded out the first 10.

BIG RISERS

The Wolverines were the biggest movers, while Virginia Tech (4-0) climbed three spots to No. 13. Clemson was No. 16, followed by UCLA, TCU and LSU after each of them also moved up three spots.

ALSO SLIDING

Marquette joined Villanova and Syracuse in dropping from the poll after the Golden Eagles (3-1) were routed by Indiana. Oregon (3-1) dropped from No. 13 to No. 21 after splitting its games against Iowa and Syracuse in New York.

BIG TEN NEWCOMERS

Iowa (4-0) leaped into the poll at No. 20 after beating Oregon and blowing out UConn to win the 2K Classic. It’s the first time the Hawkeyes have been ranked since the final poll of the 2015-16 season.

The other newcomers this week were also from the Big Ten: Ohio State (4-0) entered at No. 23 after beating Creighton and South Carolina State, and Wisconsin squeaked in ahead of another Big Ten rival in Nebraska at No. 25 after the Badgers (3-0) took care of Xavier and Houston Baptist.