After a heartbreaking 78-61 to Louisville in the final game of the Big East tournament, Syracuse will regroup and head into the NCAA tournament seeded fourth in the East Region. The Orange are matched up with the 13th-seeded Montana Grizzlies.
Syracuse has stumbled in the last month or so and has looked downright terrible in a few games, including scoring just 39 points in the regular-season finale at Georgetown.
The Grizzlies were the regular-season champions of the Big Sky Conference and also won the conference tourney. They finished the year with a record of 25-6 (19-1). They are a good shooting team that could present a difficult challenge to 'Cuse's patented 2-3 zone.
Even with the poor finish to the year, Syracuse managed to fall in the top 16 of all the teams in the nation. That means that the Orange are still pretty good and will be a tough out for anyone.
In order for the Orange to avoid the upset and advance, the following keys to the game must be followed.
Perimeter shooting is not a strength of this Syracuse team. For the year, the Orange are shooting 44 percent from the floor and 33.4 percent from long range. Though they did get hot from the outside during the Big East tournament, Syracuse is good when it gets the ball into the paint.
Baye Moussa Keita has really come on as of late for the Orange. He's a big body down low who is primarily known for his shot-blocking ability. However, he has totaled 21 points over his last two games.
The Orange also have talented forwards in C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Jerami Grant.
That has to be taken advantage of against Montana. The Grizzlies play a smaller lineup, usually playing with three guards on the floor. Center Eric Hutchison stands at 6'9", but only averages 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds a game.
The length of Syracuse, both inside and out, will present a matchup problem for the Grizzlies. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams will need to drive and kick the ball inside to exploit the weakness.
Establishing an early prescense inside is key to a Syracuse victory.
A good shooting team, especially from long range, can be a dangerous matchup for anyone in the NCAA tournament.
That's exactly what Syracuse faces in its first game against Montana. While the Orange are known for being masters of the 2-3 zone, it's also a known fact that one way to beat the zone is by hitting from the outside.
This game sets up on paper as the classic NCAA tournament trap game.
The Grizzlies are one of the top three-point shooting teams, ranking 19th in the nation at 38.5 percent. They have four guys on the roster who averaged over 40 percent from long range for the season.
Syracuse has been beat by the three-point shot several times this year, including a last-second shot to send the game to overtime in an upset loss at Villanova. Montana will no doubt look to expose the Orange early on.
Jim Boeheim has to have his team ready to step out and defend the three-point line against the Grizzlies. Otherwise, it may be a short stay for the Orange in the Big Dance.
Foul shooting has plagued Syracuse all season. The Orange rank 231st in the nation, shooting 67.5 percent from the stripe. Foul shots are important in any game, but especially during the postseason. Teams can either stay close or put a game away late by converting.
The later almost came back to doom the Orange in the Big East tournament. While there has been improvement overall, they sometimes struggle to make free throws at the end of games. Against Georgetown, Syracuse had several chances at the end of overtime to ice the game.
With the Orange up 58-55, Brandon Triche stood at the line with two shots and missed them both. Later, with just three seconds left and the score the same, C.J. Fair also missed two shots that gave Georgetown a chance from half court to send the game to a second overtime.
Things were not any better in the championship game against Louisville. Syracuse hit just 12 out of 26 from the foul line.
Free throws can be the great equalizer in college basketball. Based on seedings, Syracuse should advance to the next round.
However, missed free throws, especially late, could make this game a lot closer than it should be.
Much like missed foul shots, turnovers can turn a sure victory into a close matchup.
In order for first-round upsets to happen in the NCAA tournament, certain things have to happen. If the higher-seeded team commits too many careless turnovers, the game can suddenly become close.
In the loss to Louisville in the Big East tournament, the Orange made 19 turnovers. Guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams accounted for 11 of them. That number is too high for a team looking to make a run in late March.
Carter-Williams has had trouble keeping the ball lately, committing 22 turnovers in his last five games.
Making poor decisions and bad passes can quickly add up. In the tournament those mistakes are magnified.
Syracuse needs to control the ball and play mistake-free basketball in order to avoid the early-round upset.
Even though USA Today has Syracuse favored over Montana, that doesn't mean that the Orange can overlook the Grizzlies. Last season, Ohio University was seeded 13th and knocked off fourth-seeded Michigan in the first round.
In 2005, also seeded fourth, the Orange were upset in the opening round by Vermont.
This season, Syracuse has fell victim to slow starts, mental errors and blown leads. All of those factors resulted in an 8-8 finish over the last 16 games heading into the tournament.
Jim Boeheim's team has had trouble with focus this year. The Orange came out flat in several games. They went down 10-0 in a January 26 upset at Villanova. A March 9 loss saw them put up just 18 points in the first half against Georgetown.
On top of some bad starts, Syracuse also blew a 16-point lead to Louisville with 15 minutes remaining in the Big East championship game.
It's easy to overlook an early opponent in the tournament. The lower-seeded team often has less pressure to win and can play a more relaxed game.
The Orange will need to come out focused and ready to play against the Grizzlies in order to prevent a repeat of 2005.
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