5 Teams That Could Give Syracuse Trouble in East Region of 2013 NCAA Tournament
After a roller coaster season of highs and lows, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team finds itself on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament with a No. 4 seed.
Syracuse (26-9, 11-7 Big East) could have been seeded as high as No. 2 had it pulled off a win against Louisville in the final of the Big East Tournament, but the No. 19 Orange could not put together two solid halves of basketball and let a 16-point lead slip away, falling 78-61.
The win granted No. 4 Louisville (29-5, 14-4) the honor of its third Big East Tournament title in five years and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
For Syracuse, the loss illustrated everything good and bad about the Orange this season.
Early on, Michael Carter-Williams was crisp with his passing and was not turning the ball over. Baye Keita continued his impressive bench play and the offense ran like a finely-tuned machine.
James Southerland continued his over-the-top three-point performance with three more, breaking Gerry McNamara’s record of 16 three-pointers made in the Big East Tournament with 19, but he only scored nine points and his fourth foul, with Syracuse up 16, put him on the bench while Louisville mounted its comeback.
Without the threat of Southerland, who got his fourth foul with 15:34 left in the second half, the Syracuse offense went cold, as in absolute zero.
The Orange would only convert two baskets from the field for the rest of the game, both from C.J. Fair on a tip and a three-pointer.
If ever there were a tale of two halves, this was it.
So now Syracuse sits in the East Region as a No. 4 seed and gets to face the No. 13 seed Montana Grizzlies.
The last time Syracuse was a No. 4 seed was in 2005, when Syracuse was shocked by the three-point-crazy Vermont Catamounts, 60-57.
Montana presents a similar problem for the Orange, as it relies heavily on the three.
Other teams, such as No. 1 seed Indiana, could give the Orange trouble with inside-out play and two other teams, No. 3 seed Marquette and No. 9 seed Temple, have already beaten Syracuse this season.
The East Region is tough, but winnable, for a handful of teams, including the Jekyll-and-Hyde Orange.
Here’s a rundown of the five teams that potentially give Syracuse its biggest problems.
No. 13 Montana Grizzlies
The Montana Grizzlies won the Big Sky tournament with a 67-64 win over Weber State to get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Montana, which finished 19-1 in conference, also won the regular season crown, but is the only team from the Big Sky to get to the big dance, as it is a very weak conference.
The Big Sky was so weak that it only had three teams out of 11 finish above .500 in conference and only had two teams, Montana and Weber State, finish above .500 overall.
This doesn't mean that Montana should be overlooked. Montana is a team that loves to shoot three-pointers and excels at doing so.
The Grizzlies shoot .385 from behind the arc, but spread out the talent as five of their players shoot better than 40 percent from three and two others shoot better than 30 percent from long range.
Three-point shooters, such as Markel Starks of Georgetown and Luke Hancock of Louisville, have given Syracuse fits. A whole team of three-point shooters could be problematic.
This doesn’t mean that the Orange should only pack for one night. Montana has been good in the Big Sky, but a deeper look into how it got to the big dance exposes a bit of a problem.
Montana hasn’t beaten anyone.
Syracuse finished the season 26-9. Of its nine losses, eight were to teams that made the tournament.
The ninth loss was to Connecticut, which would have made the tournament had it not been banned from postseason play for this season.
Syracuse has played 15 games this season against teams in the tournament, going 7-8. Not a world-beating record, but certainly respectable.
Montana on the other hand, has played a grand total of zero ranked teams this season. The Grizzlies have played three games against teams in the tournament, Colorado State, South Dakota State and Davidson.
Those teams are seeded No. 8, No. 13 and No. 14 respectively and all three were victorious against Montana.
What is curious is how Montana got as high a seed as it did with no quality wins. Montana even counted wins over Division II’s Minot State and the NAIA’s Carroll College of Montana among its 25 victories.
The Syracuse 2-3 zone forces teams to try to shoot over it and when it goes according to plan, teams have great difficulty doing so.
The length of Syracuse will likely be the deciding factor in preventing a three-point barrage as Mathias Ward, who is out for the season after foot surgery, is Montana’s only impact player who is taller that 6’6".
This is indicated in Montana’s 31.2 rebounds per game, which gives the Grizzlies a ranking of No. 309 in that category.
All of the above is meaningless, however, if Montana finds a way to connect on its shots. It’s a long shot, but stranger things (read: Vermont Catamounts) have happened.
No. 1 Indiana
Indiana spent 10 weeks this season as the No. 1 team in the nation, more than any other school. This is because Indiana has been a steady machine that bounces back from losses and has a fantastic mix of rebounding and scoring.
Indiana also boasts one of the premier inside-out duos in the nation in the form of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller.
Syracuse would have to make it to the Sweet 16 for a potential matchup with Indiana. While the Orange nation would love to get revenge against the Hoosiers for the 1987 NCAA title game, not seeing Indiana in the Sweet 16, or at anytime, would be more desirable.
Indiana found a way to put 82 points on Georgetown, albeit in overtime, blew out North Carolina by 24 and most importantly, has been able to finish teams off.
Indiana is also the No. 3 scoring team in the nation with 80 points per game, almost nine points better than the Orange's 71.3, which is good for No. 80. Syracuse would have to find a way to slow down the high-powered scoring attack of Indiana, which could be possible if the zone shows up to play, but even that would take a Herculean effort.
Like Syracuse, Indiana has no bad losses, but unlike Syracuse, Indiana has not lost consecutive games the entire season.
It’s hard to find a flaw in the Indiana game, which makes it so puzzling that the Hoosiers lost to Wisconsin, twice.
Perhaps that just shows how deep the Big Ten Conference has been this season.
No team should be scared of any other team, but Syracuse should want no part of Indiana.
No. 9 Temple
On December 22, the Temple Owls became the first team to beat Syracuse this season. The game was the featured game of the Gotham Classic, played at Madison Square Garden and was supposed to be a walk-through for the Orange.
Temple had other ideas and exposed a fatal flaw of Syracuse’s early on in the season.
The Orange could not make free throws.
Syracuse missed 15 free throws in the four-point loss and shot an abysmal 2-of-12 from the three-point line.
Those two aspects of Syracuse’s game would haunt the Orange throughout the season.
Worse yet, the game was supposed to be a home game for the Orange, which has had as much success in the Garden as any other team that has played there, including the Rangers and Knicks, but Temple found a way to expose holes in the Syracuse zone and made the celebration of coach Jim Boeheim’s 900th win, which he achieved the game before against Detroit, a short-lived one.
Syracuse has made great strides in improving its free-throw shooting, but it faces a problem recently of not getting to the free-throw line enough, or at least, as much as its opponents.
Against Louisville in the Big East Final, Syracuse put Louisville at the line 36 times as opposed to only 26 for the Orange. Even in its win against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Orange only attempted 10 free throws to Pitt’s 19.
Against Marquette in a loss on February 25, the Orange were out-attempted 35 to seven from the free-throw line.
What’s worse is that Marquette only averages 21 free-throw attempts per game for the season.
Temple only takes about 20 free throws per game, but against Syracuse, it attempted 36. This is a problem the Orange have to fix.
Syracuse would only face Temple if the Owls were to get past North Carolina State and then Indiana. It’s a big if, but seeing that Temple has already found a way to beat the Orange, there’s no reason to think Temple couldn’t give Syracuse a run for its money.
No. 2 Miami
Writing that Miami would be a problem for Syracuse is something I never thought I’d do in my life, but Miami is the real deal.
Perhaps the Hurricanes have been inspired by the good work of the Miami Heat, but any team that can beat North Carolina three times in one season and blow out Duke by almost 30 points can play with anyone in the country.
Miami put an exclamation point on its season by beating North Carolina in the final of the ACC tournament, 87-77.
The Hurricanes have a deep bench, with eight players averaging over 16 minutes per game and the tandem of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson could prove to be a rebounding nightmare for the Orange.
Miami also plays great defense and is a very good three-point shooting team at over 35 percent made. Those are two areas that could give the Orange fits. It also boasts one of the best backcourts in the country with Shane Larking and Durand Scott.
Syracuse wouldn’t see Miami until the Elite Eight, which would mean that things were going well for the Orange, but would also mean that Miami took out a very physical Marquette team along the way.
Speaking of Marquette…
No. 3 Marquette
Two seasons ago, No. 11 seed Marquette beat No. 3 seed Syracuse, 66-62, to advance to the Sweet 16 in an essential street brawl in Cleveland.
Two seasons later, not much has changed.
Marquette still plays physical and at a high level, but this incarnation of Marquette gave Syracuse a lesson in two things.
One is the aforementioned disparity on free-throw shooting, which is an anomaly unto itself for anyone who has seen the aggressive play of Marquette.
The second lesson was that for most of the game on February 25, Marquette played a zone defense, which Syracuse struggled mightily with and allowed Marquette’s big men to play rested, including 6’8”, 280-pound Davante Gardner, who lit up Syracuse on 7-of-7 shooting from the field and 12-of-13 from the free-throw line for 26 points and added eight rebounds for good measure.
The Golden Eagles play an ugly, grimy game that no team is comfortable with.
Syracuse plays a fantastic zone and creates turnovers with quick hands and good positioning.
Marquette, against Syracuse, showed what a zone looks like when the defense is more concerned with clogging every lane, not just passing lanes.
Marquette presents Syracuse with all the fun of going to the dentist without the help of Novocaine.
This game would also not take place until the Elite Eight, which would be a hard thing for Syracuse to accomplish with its lack of depth and consistent scoring.
Syracuse has shown great ability to play on the road as it did in the Big East Tournament and also gave both Louisville and Arkansas their only home losses this season. The Orange need to capture some of that magic or the fish might be biting a little earlier for Jim Boeheim and company.