Syracuse-Oklahoma: Blake Griffin Takes On Syracuse's Vaunted Zone Defense

jonathan staubCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 21:  Blake Griffin #23 of the Oklahoma Sooners sets up for the free throw 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)

61 points and 30 rebounds. That’s what Oklahoma’s man-child, Blake Griffin, has done in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.


That’s not withstanding the fact that he has only missed seven shots in two games.


Griffin has done what everyone expected him to do, and carried Oklahoma into the Sweet 16.


Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel has piled more pressure onto the already lofty expectations of Griffin, telling him that he may need to “wrap his arms around his teammates and bring them with him."


Seems like a lot of pressure for a sophomore, doesn’t it?


Sooner fans are already expecting Griffin to lead the team to their first 30-win season since 2002, and their first regional final since 2003.


If you want another example of poetic justice in this tournament, all you have to do is look back to 2003.


Syracuse defeated Oklahoma on the way to coach Jim Boeheim’s only National Title. The Orange rode on the shoulders of a superstar stud of their own in Carmelo Anthony.


It has seemingly become prophetic for these superstar athletes to lead their teams to the Final Four.


Whether or not Griffin fulfills his destiny and takes Oklahoma to the Final Four will be contingent on whether or not the Sooners can crack Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.


111 points is all that Syracuse has yielded through the first two rounds.


The Orange stymied the Stephen F. Austin attack, holding them to 44 points, and smothered the Arizona State Sun Devils offensive onslaught, holding ASU to 67 points.


Neither team, however, had Blake Griffin.


Johnny Flynn and Eric Devendorf have been nothing short of spectacular for Syracuse. Between the two of them, they have played all but three minutes of the first two rounds.


Flynn has quickly become one of the best guards in the country, and Devendorf’s clutch shooting has the Orange faithful swearing they are watching a second coming of Gerry McNamara.


Flynn has scored 27 points, and Devendorf has tallied 31 in the Orange’s first two games; Flynn can also add 14 assists to his tournament resume.


Flynn and Devendorf have combined for 58 of Syracuse’s 137 points over the first two rounds—that’s 42 percent for those keeping track at home.


To put things in perspective, Griffin has 61 points in two games—That’s three more than Flynn and Devendorf combined.


Griffin also has seven more rebounds than the Orange’s leading rebounder, Paul Harris. Griffin, in fact, has as many rebounds in his first two games as the entire Syracuse team had in their first round matchup with Stephen F. Austin.


Playing in the Big East, Syracuse is no stranger to dominant big men. The Orange have gone up against Hasheem Thabeet of UConn twice, and DeJuan Blair of Pitt this season, too.


Neither, however, is Blake Griffin.


Whereas Syracuse struggled with Thabeet and Blair—both prolific rebounders—they have not gone up against a big man with the athleticism and scoring capabilities of Griffin.


"Probably going to be the No. 1 pick in this upcoming year's draft," Johnny Flynn said of Griffin on Thursday. "There's nothing really to say about him that everybody in this world doesn't know. He's just so tenacious on the offensive end and the defensive end. He controls the game. ... He just really plays the game at his own speed. That's what makes him good."


For Syracuse to advance, they will need to be better than good. Their vaunted zone will need to be great.


Syracuse will look to counter the interior attack of the Griffin brothers (Blake and Taylor) with a pair of 6’9” forwards in Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku.


"They're really tough. Both of them are better players than their numbers might show," Blake Griffin said of Syracuse’s two forwards. "They're both big guys that are physical, and they do a good job inside. We're going to have to do a good job and be physical and keep them off the boards."


If Syracuse is able to shut down Blake Griffin on the interior, they will still have to defend three Sooner players in Willie Warren, Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker, who are all shooting at least 34 percent from behind the three-point line.


Not to mention Taylor Griffin’s ability to occasionally step outside and hit the long jumper.


"As good as their inside guys are, those four guys present big problems," Boeheim said when asked about the outside shooting of the Sooners.


It would be safe to assume that this will be an offensive game, no matter how hard Syracuse will try to shut down the Sooner’s offensive attack.


Syracuse led the Big East in scoring offense, and was ninth in the nation, averaging 80.4 points per game. Oklahoma was 11th in the country, averaging 79.1 points per contest.


This game will come down to Johnny Flynn who is “one of the best point guards in the country” according to Capel, and, according to Boeheim, perhaps “the best player in college basketball” Blake Griffin.


This is the most evenly-matched contest of the Sweet 16.


All that stands in Jim Boeheim’s way of his 800th career victory is Blake Griffin.