Syracuse vs. Cal: Why Brandon Triche Is Orange's Key to Deep NCAA Tourney Run

Gene SiudutContributor IIIMarch 22, 2013

Mar 21, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Brandon Triche (20) controls the ball against Montana Grizzlies guard Jordan Gregory (10) during the first half of the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse guard Brandon Triche must have a great memory…

…or a short one.

After No. 4 seed Syracuse’s round of 64 drubbing of No. 13 seed Montana, 81-34, the senior sat at the podium with coach Jim Boeheim and fellow senior James Southerland responding to questions about his 20-point performance to begin his final NCAA tournament appearance.

Triche, after suffering through a shooting slump for much of the season, was asked if he felt like he was back to where he was earlier in the season.

“Sort of,” Triche answered. “I shot the ball pretty well, but teammates gave me the ball to score.”

Brandon Triche has patiently waited for his chance to shine for the Syracuse after taking a back seat to fellow guards, such as Scoop Jardine, in years past. But now, this is his team, or at least it was supposed to be.

Triche, who started every game of his Syracuse career, began the season with a mission to put his team on his back. In years past, Triche would be satisfied allowing the game to come to him and would not have a problem with his teammates taking the spotlight.

That was the old Triche.

The new Triche became the prototypical Syracuse slashing guard who could drive the lane, spot up for a three and bully his opponents on defense.

On January 19, Syracuse traveled to Louisville to take on the then-No. 1 team in the nation.

In the only home loss Louisville suffered the entire season, sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams got the attention for his heroic finish, allowing Syracuse to escape Louisville with a win, but it was Carter-Williams’ poor play early in the game that put Orange in the position to potentially lose the game.

It was Triche who kept the team together.

Triche shot 9-of-13 from the field, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc for 23 points. He even grabbed six rebounds.

Triche established himself as the leader that Syracuse needed. The Orange played that game without Southerland, who was temporarily ineligible due to academic reason. With Southerland being the team’s only serious three-point threat, Triche had to put the team on his back.

With Triche playing to his potential and Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair spreading the floor, Syracuse was a well-oiled machine, capable of beating any team in the nation.

The return of Southerland, who would miss six games, would be the final piece of the puzzle for Syracuse to establish itself as a favorite to make the Final Four.

But something happened along the way. Triche followed up his Louisville game with a quality performance in a win against No. 21 Cincinnati and even played well in an overtime loss to Villanova where he scored 23.

The following game against Pittsburgh, a 65-55 loss, showed some holes in his game.

Triche went 4-of-14 and hit none of his five attempts from three. In his next three games in which Syracuse went 2-1, Triche would shoot 10-of-34 and only made two of his 18 three-point attempts.

He seemed to right his ship with a 29-point performance against Seton Hall, but he had trouble maintaining that level of play that he established against Louisville.

Triche would shoot 4-of-13 against Georgetown, 2-of-11 in the rematch against Louisville and 1-of-9 in the follow-up against Georgetown. Triche would also turn the ball over 12 times in those three games.

Going into the Big East Tournament, Triche would have to once again become the leader of the team. He relinquished his team-scoring lead to C.J. Fair, who has been consistent the entire season, but is not the emotional leader that Triche can be.

Seton Hall would be the medicine Triche needed.

Triche shot 6-of-9 for 17 points and started a run for Syracuse in the Big East tournament that would bring the Orange to the finals against Louisville.

Going into the Louisville game, Triche shot an impressive 15-of-27 and handed out 11 assists. Combined with the sharp-shooting of Southerland, who broke the Big East tournament record for three-pointers made with 19, Triche had Syracuse looking like a contender once again.

Syracuse would falter in the second half against Louisville after building a 16-point lead, but the Orange put the game behind them.

They knew that they were capable of playing with any team in the nation, as long as they had their captain to steer the ship.

Thankfully for Syracuse, Captain Triche put the 3-of-12 against Louisville performance out of his memory and arrived at the NCAA tournament with a purpose.

Own this team.

Triche re-established himself once again with a 5-of-6 performance, making both of his three-pointers and even went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

With Triche shaking off the cobwebs and getting his slump out of his mind, the Orange were ready to be world beaters again, which does not bode well for Syracuse’s thrird-round opponent, No. 12 seed California.

Having a short memory has its advantages.