After dispensing the Montana Grizzlies, the Syracuse Orange move on to face the Bears.
At approximately 9:40 Eastern Time Saturday night, the Orange tip against the Cal Bears, who became yet another No. 12 seed to knock off a No. 5 seed by beating UNLV, 64-61.
Cal finished 21-11 this season, including a 12-6 Pac-12 record. Their most noteworthy stat of the season may have been giving up 81 points in losing to Wisconsin. The Badgers are a plodding team as evidenced by their 66.2 points-per-game average, which ranked 206th in the NCAA.
Cal did have an impressive seven-game win streak late in the season with nice wins over Arizona, UCLA and Oregon.
So, what will the Orange need to do to beat the Bears?
I'm glad you asked. I've picked the five keys to winning this game for Syracuse. My choices are based on what has made Syracuse successful this season, what can be leveraged from the Montana win and how they apply to Cal.
Defense doesn't take a night off. Even if you have an off-shooting game, you can work hard on defense and make something happen.
The Orange have embraced defense this season. Playing hard defense is what kept the Orange in games during that horrendous, traumatizing-to-fans offensive stretch toward the end of the season.
Montana came into the game against the Orange shooting a decent 38.5 percent from three-point range. The Grizzlies limped away after a 4-of-31 shooting night from beyond the arc. Overall Montana shot just 11-of-54 from the field.
Yes, we're all tired of talking about the Orange's shooting woes. Once again, we will review the concept of getting closer to the basket to make more shots.
Syracuse has always used its defense to trigger its offense. The Orange used 12 steals against Montana to get out and run, which led to transition points. Brandon Triche led the way with four steals while Michael Carter-Williams grabbed three.
The most important factor in beating Cal will be hard, aggressive, suffocating defense that leads to transition points for the Orange.
Another way to ease the need to make outside shots is the get the ball inside--here we go again--for closer shots.
The Orange only took 11 three-point shots against Montana, making five. They pounded the ball inside and got a typical nice game from C.J. Fair with 13 points and three rebounds.
The difference in the Orange inside game was the emergence of the two big McDonald's All-Americans.
Rakeem Christmas hasn't shown enough assertiveness inside this season, but really worked on that against Montana. Rak scored nine and pulled down five rebounds while playing with force.
The surprise of the night was DaJuan Coleman, who played 15 minutes, scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Fair has been there all year but needs the contributions of Christmas, Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita.
Again, everything is related. Better inside play will open the floor and give the Orange perimeter shooters better looks, which will lead to more baskets.
The improved inside scoring needs to be there against Cal.
It seems impossible to believe that the same Orange who couldn't hit the rim down the stretch in the regular season made 27 of 52 shots from the field against Montana for 51 percent shooting. They made 22 of 31 free throws for 70 percent and were a very efficient 5-of-11 from three-point range for 45 percent.
The Orange have to continue to make shots against the Bears. It starts with Brandon Triche, with start being the operative word. When Brandon hits early it relaxes him for the rest of the game. He made his first shot, a three, and finished 5-of-6 from the field and 8-of-10 from the line for a game-high 20 points against Montana.
His accuracy spread as Fair hit 5-of-8 Christmas 4-of-6 and Carter-Williams 2-of-3.
The more the ball goes in the basket against Cal, the better the chances for an Orange win.
There have been times this season that the Orange offense has been stagnant and ball movement virtually nonexistent.
Syracuse needs to move the ball and work it inside to get easier shots rather than settling for long threes. That happened tonight against Montana.
The Orange had 21 assists and only eight turnovers, which is just outstanding. The starting backcourt led the way as Michael Carter-Williams had nine dimes and Brandon Triche had four.
Standing around and settling for threes will get the Orange beat against Cal.
The Bears rely on two players to do the bulk of their scoring as Alan Crabbe averages 18.7 points per game while Justin Cobbs scores 15.4. Third on the team is Richard Solomon at 8.5 points per game.
The Orange defense has to locate Crabbe and Cobbs and make sure they don't beat them. Sometimes the Orange 2-3 zone has difficulty stopping specific players.
With the exception of one player, Georgetown shot 7-of-35 at the Dome. That sounds like a win to me. Unfortunately, the Orange lost sight of Otto Porter, who shot 12-of-19 in scoring 33 points and virtually beat Syracuse single-handedly.
Pay attention now, Orange...find No. 23 Crabbe and No. 1 Cobbs. Find them. Stick to them. Stop them.