Oklahoma's Road to the Final Four Begins with Syracuse

Andrew BailerContributor IMarch 24, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 21:  Blake Griffin #23 and Willie Warren #13 of the Oklahoma Sooners smile after a play to teammate Tony Crocker #5 in the second half during their second round game against the Michigan Wolverines the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 21, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Sooners defeated the Wolverines 73-63.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Oklahoma Sooners will have to win their next two games in Memphis, Tennessee in order to secure a birth in this year's Final Four in Detroit.  For the No. 2 seed in the South Region, that means advancing past Big-East powerhouse, Syracuse, and then winning another tough game against the winner of North Carolina and Gonzaga.

This is no easy road for the Sooners, who last appeared in a Final Four in 2002 under former coach, Kelvin Sampson.  However, current coach, Jeff Capel, appears to be enjoying his team's run in this year's NCAA Tournament.

"You know, probably my two favorites moments as a coach was right now, this is one of them, and then my team at VCU when we won our conference tournament," said Capel following the victory over Michigan this past Saturday.

Capel's superstar forward, No. 23 Blake Griffin, has been nothing short of rough-housed in his first two tournament games, where he managed to put up consecutive double-doubles against Morgan State and Michigan.

Even as he was double-teamed and triple-teamed, the Big 12 Player of the Year and Naismith Trophy finalist scored 28 against Morgan State and then dumped 33 on Michigan, while grabbing an average of 15 rebounds over those two games.

If the Sooners are to contain the high octane offense of Syracuse, they are going to need another strong defensive performance from Tony Crocker, who drew three offensive fouls and held Michigan's leading scorer, Manny Harris, to just 3-of-9 shooting and 11 points.

Despite his strong defensive play, Crocker has not had offensive success as of late.  Normally an above average three-point shooter, Crocker went 0-4 from behind the arc against Michigan and only managed four points in the win over the Wolverines.

If and when Griffin gets double-teamed against the Orange, the Sooners will have to rely on guards, Willie Warren and Austin Johnson, who both hit key shots down the stretch in the second round victory against the Wolverines.  The duo combined for 6-of-13 shooting from three-point range and both scored in double figures.

Another option for the Oklahoma offense is to rely on another forward, Griffin's older brother, Taylor, with whom Blake is accustomed to having as an outlet when he gets surrounded by defenders.

Defensively against Syracuse, the Sooners will have to keep the hot-hand of Eric Devendorf in check.  Devendorf lit up their second round opponent, the Arizona State Sun Devils, for 21 points, while fellow guard, Andy Rautins recorded 17 on the day.

If the younger Griffin can out-muscle the likes of Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, while also getting the ball to Warren and Johnson, then the Sooners could be headed to the Elite Eight for the first time under Coach Capel.

If Griffin gets himself into foul trouble and Oklahoma's other weapons don't perform, then it could be a long night for the Sooners, who were also defeated by Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament back in 2003, when the Orange advanced the Final Four and won the title, led by Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Hakeem Warrick.