The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is back in the Sweet 16 after an up-and-down year that caused some in the media to call for the Orange’s ouster in the round of 64 against the Montana Grizzlies.
The No. 4 seed Orange (28-9, 11-7 Big East) dismantled Montana 81-34 to advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament to face the California Golden Bears and the Pac-12 player of the year, Allen Crabbe.
Syracuse played spectacular defense against Cal, holding Crabbe to eight points—10 points below his season average—and pulled off the 66-60 victory. The Orange were fortunate that their defense stepped up, as they only made six baskets for the duration of the second half.
That half also saw the Orange go 12 minutes without a field goal.
Despite the poor showing in the second half, the Orange accomplished their only goals in the tournament.
Survive and advance.
Up next for the Orange are the Hoosiers of Indiana on Thursday at 9:45 p.m. EDT. The game will be played in Washington D.C., at the home of Syracuse’s most hated foe, Georgetown.
While Syracuse may hate playing at the Verizon Center, the team will surely relish the opportunity for tournament revenge against the team that so memorably defeated the then-Orangemen in the 1987 tournament final at the hands of Keith Smart.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has erased the memory of that loss with his 2003 NCAA championship, but he must feel that some unfinished business must be attended to.
Last season, the Orange were led by a superb cast that included Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. The Orange suffered only one regular-season loss, which was chalked up to not having sophomore center Fab Melo available due to academic restrictions.
Syracuse, along with Kentucky, was one of the favorites to win the NCAA championship, but just before the tournament started, Melo was once again prohibited from playing, due to academics.
Without its big man, Syracuse fell to Ohio State in the Elite Eight and was forced to spend the summer wondering what could have been.
Fast forward to this season. Syracuse has not had close to the depth it had last season, which boasted a roster that went 10 deep, but the players who have played significant minutes have each enjoyed varying degrees of success.
To get past No. 1 seed Indiana and its star duo of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, the Orange will have to use their superior size at the guard spots to either force Indiana to settle for long jump shots or to create turnovers to get out in transition.
Transition will be the ultimate key, as the Orange do not have an inside presence to compete with Indiana’s bigs.
Running on the assumption that Syracuse gets by Indiana, the Orange have only three opponents between them and a second national championship.
Should the Orange win, they would get the winner of the game between Miami and Marquette.
Syracuse has already lost to Marquette, and Miami has one of the best guard combos in the nation, so choosing an opponent more desirable than the other is quite difficult.
But let’s give it a shot.
Here is a look forward to discover the best possible path for Syracuse to win a national championship.