March Madness 2012: Previewing Syracuse's Path to the Final Four in New Orleans

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March Madness 2012: Previewing Syracuse's Path to the Final Four in New Orleans
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange's 31-2 overall mark was one of the best in the country, and as a result, Jim Boeheim's squad has been rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the East Region of the bracket. 

Opening up in Pittsburgh, the Orange will then travel to Boston if they successfully fend off teams with similar Final Four aspirations. In the eyes of many, Syracuse has the toughest path to New Orleans, but what exactly stands in its way? 

First, no Syracuse fan should overlook UNC-Asheville. Vermont in 2005 still burns in the memories of loyal Orange fans, and UNC-Asheville, who won the Big South tournament, is a high-scoring team who's willing to pass the ball around. They shoot just more than 48 percent from the field. 

If all goes as expected, Syracuse will then draw either Kansas State or Southern Mississippi. Both teams played inconsistently all year, but both finished the year with rough conference stretches.

The Wildcats finished 4-4, losing to tournament-quality teams Baylor, Kansas, Texas and Iowa State. At the same time, they upset Baylor on the road, further showing that this team can be a giant-killer or a choke artist. 

The Golden Eagles finished their stretch 3-5, losing in the C-USA semifinal to Marshall and dropping games to UAB, Houston and UTEP. A very good matchup that will come down to rebounding will determine who 'Cuse could face in the Round of 32. 

Moving further down their half of the bracket, the Orange are looking at potentially facing teams with Cinderella potential or outside favorites for the Final Four. 

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The Orange could potentially meet Harvard, Vanderbilt or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16—all teams who play very strong defense and could slow down the game enough to fluster the Orange.

Out of these three, Wisconsin is probably the most worrisome with its ability to also hit from behind the arc, but Vanderbilt did just defeat Kentucky in the SEC tournament. In either situation, Syracuse's rebounding issue will need to be resolved in order to take back control of what would become a half-court game. 

Predicting the other half of the bracket to determine an Elite Eight competitor—should the Orange go that far—is hit or miss. The odds-on favorite is Ohio State, who was a Top Four team at the beginning of the season, but never fully lived up to the hype. 

However, with Florida State and Cincinnati both in this half, things could get interesting. Both teams are coming off huge upsets within their conference tournaments, and both teams could frustrate Syracuse. Florida State has sunk so many teams with great defense and late threes, while Cincinnati just booted the Orange from the Big East tournament. 

If the Orange matched up against any of these teams, it would be a challenge, but also expected at that stage of the tournament. The safest team would more than likely be Florida State or Ohio State for different reasons. 

If Baye-Moussa Keita or Rakeem Christmas steps up as a solid option in the middle of the zone to help Fab Melo, Ohio State's lack of depth, coupled with a frustrated Jared Sullinger, would heavily favor the Orange.

Meanwhile, if the Seminoles cannot catch fire from behind the arc, they too will try to slow down the game to play a defensive-minded game. However, the effectiveness of this strategy has been hit or miss for Florida State all year, and the game would have a Big East feel that would favor the Orange. 

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With that, Syracuse would have fought a grueling road to the Final Four, but not an impossible one. The Orange have a great team who can make some noise and who is expected to go far. I give them a 45 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, a better number than most, but there are still doubts. 

Regardless, the Orange were my preseason pick to win it all, and I will stick by them—especially if they play their fast-paced game with help from steals and blocks created in the 2-3 zone.

So without any further ado, let the madness begin. 

 

For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here

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