ESPN commentators predicted on Wednesday night that out of the three seeds left in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, Syracuse would be the one most likely to cut down the nets after the final game, but it will be no easy road to get there.
Their next roadblock comes on March 27, when they play Blake Griffin and the second-seeded Oklahoma Sooners.
This will be the first Syracuse-Oklahoma match up since the 2003 East Regional finals, when Syracuse was on the way to the National Championship.
The Sooners rely heavily on the scoring of Griffin, a 6'10" center who loves to bang inside and load up the highlight reels with power dunks. Syracuse leads Dancing teams in shot percentages, came into the tournament as the highest scoring team in the Big East Conference and is a threat on defense with Arinze Onuaku playing forward.
According to Lesley Visser of CBS Sports, 'Cuse coach, Jim Boeheim, has spent years polishing his trademark 2-3 zone defense. Other coaches use it as a change-up to their man-to-man, but Syracuse has used it as the primary option for more than 30-years.
When they wrought havoc against Memphis and Kansas this season, the Orange showed why their defense is so strong.
Against Kansas in November, Syracuse went man-to-man against the defending national champions. Trailing by 13-points in the second half, the Orange switched defenses, created three consecutive turnovers, and eventually won 89-81, in overtime.
In order to advance to the Elite Eight, however, Syracuse has to beat Oklahoma by containing Griffin.
The Orange have the talent to make things interesting with Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, who have the bulk and athleticism, but there is no question that Blake is the best player in college basketball this season.
He had 28-points and 13 rebounds against Morgan State, shooting 11-for-12 from the field and in the second round against Michigan, Griffin had 33 and 17.
"We’ve played great teams, but we haven’t played against any player like Blake Griffin," Boeheim said in an interview with Post Standard reporters.
When the media asked SU’s Andy Rautins if the Syracuse team can defend Griffin, he said, "Sure. He’s probably the best player in the country right now, but we’re certainly going to try to defend him the best we can."
In a poll on www.blog.syracuse.com/orangebasketball, 78 percent of readers think the Orange will hold Griffin to scoring no more than 22-points.
The Syracuse-Oklahoma game is not just a big game for SU in that it's the gateway to the Elite Eight; it could also be Boeheim’s 800th win in 32-years with the team.
"It certainly will be big, but we’re just going to go in and treat is as another game," Rautins said. "We’re not just looking to get the coaches’ win, and I don’t think he’s thinking like that either, but if we do get the win, it sure would be special."
The Orange's star and arguably the best point guard left in the tournament, Jonny Flynn, agrees. "We want to win for him and keep him up there in the few elite coaches to win 800 or more."
According to Jake Curtis of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jonny Flynn ranks as the No. 2 point guard in the NCAA Tournament next to UNC’s Ty Lawson. Curtis writes,
"Always smiling, never tired and often flashy, Flynn could become the star of the tournament if the Orange beat Oklahoma."
It’s clear that Flynn can't be stopped once he gets into the key. Against Arizona State, he had a huge impact on Syracuse's offensive opportunities, finishing with 11-points and seven assists.
It’s obvious that Griffin is the guy that Syracuse needs to hold and Flynn may be the main man the Sooners need to keep an eye on.
Britney Milazzo is a Contributor for Bleacher Report.
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