Syracuse Basketball: Orange Will Overcome Hostile Environment to Beat California

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 23, 2013

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 21:  James Southerland #43 of the Syracuse Orange drives on Michael Weisner #33 of the Montana Grizzlies in the first half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at HP Pavilion on March 21, 2013 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange face a difficult test on Saturday evening in an NCAA tournament third round matchup with the No. 12 seed California Golden Bears, who will have a big home-court advantage.

Even though this showdown will take place in San Jose's HP Pavilion and definitely feature far more Cal fans, the Orange will be able to rise to the occasion and advance to the Sweet 16.

As the fourth seed in the East region, Jim Boeheim's bunch absolutely demolished Montana 81-34 in the tournament opener, but will face a more difficult task in this one. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the team's record-breaking performance.

Thanks to massive size and typical stalwart defense in Boeheim's 2-3 zone, though, Syracuse has all the makings of another deep run amidst March Madness despite regular season inconsistency.

Unfortunately, for the second time in a row, the Orange are playing on college basketball's biggest stage while under investigation by the NCAA. It is linked to last year's inquiry, and CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reports that the violations are considered to be major.

That distraction away from the court apparently hasn't affected the team, and if anything, has added another piece of adversity for them to overcome.

It has been far from an ideal 2012-13 campaign for Syracuse, which included three consecutive losses to marquee Big East foes Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville—the NCAA tournament's overall No. 1 seed.

A disappointing fall to the Cardinals in the conference tournament final preceded the Big Dance, but the Orange continue to show they can persevere through just about anything.

This is not to dismiss what Cal has done up to now. The Bears pulled off a wonderful victory in the second round against a quality UNLV squad led by highly-touted freshman Anthony Bennett. As good as Syracuse's defense is, the Bears used similar zone tactics to shut down Bennett and Co.

That should make this a tight, low-scoring affair. The backcourt matchup of California's Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs against the Orange's Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche should be nearly even.

The players who will make the biggest difference in tipping the scales in the Orange's favor are James Southerland and C.J. Fair. Southerland is an X-factor because of his three-point shooting ability and length as an extremely athletic wing player.

Leading scorer Fair will be a force on the inside on both ends of the court, neutralizing the slashing ability of Crabbe and Cobbs and overwhelming Cal's David Kravish. The talented Golden Bear guards both don't have the efficiency from beyond the arc to thrive against Syracuse's zone, which will make running their typical offense problematic.

While the friendly fanfare should help keep things close for California, the Orange have endured the adversity necessary on and off the court to ultimately prevail in this hostile environment.


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