The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is still alive after defeating the No. 1 seed Indiana Hoosiers 61-50 to advance to the Elite Eight.
The Orange will face off against one of their conference foes, the Marquette Golden Eagles, at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Also alive, by the way, is The Fight Doctor Ferdie Pacheco, who was erroneously declared dead by game announcer Verne Lundquist while Syracuse’s Baye Keita was having a cut tended to. As someone who speaks with Dr. Pacheco with regularity, I can assure you he is alive and kicking.
The Hoosiers, however, have flatlined.
Syracuse’s suffocating 2-3 zone defense caused problems the entire night for the Hoosiers, who spent the game turning the ball over and getting their shots blocked a combined 28 times. Indiana stars Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo were prevented from gaining any kind of momentum as Syracuse imposed its will on the frustrated Hoosiers.
Most of the frustration was the result of the Hoosiers' unfamiliarity with the Syracuse zone.
Marquette will not have that problem.
On February 25, the Golden Eagles were highly efficient against the Syracuse zone and handed the Orange a 74-71 loss.
Marquette was able to find openings in the lane and the baseline and had more attempts than Syracuse from the free-throw line (35 to seven, respectively), making 29 to Syracuse’s five.
Marquette’s Davonte Gardner was the star of the show with 26 points on 7-of-7 shooting and 12-of-13 from the free-throw line. Gardner also gathered eight rebounds.
That game was played at Marquette, which is one of the toughest places to play in America. Saturday’s game will be at the equally ominous home of the Georgetown Hoyas, but with the Hoyas being ousted from the tournament, Syracuse is actually enjoying playing there.
To reach their first Final Four since their championship run in 2003, the Orange cannot afford to play the same type game they played in February.
Here are five keys to the Orange advancing to the Final Four.
In the previous game against Marquette, the Golden Eagles were able to position themselves in areas that are normally not available in the Syracuse zone.
This was caused by a quality inside game that forced the zone to collapse on the interior, allowing shooters to consistently get uncontested jump shots from the free-throw line.
This area of the court is normally clogged.
Even when a player camps out at the free-throw line to run the point through the inside, it takes a great deal of skill to play facing away from the basket and even more difficult to access passing lanes from that area.
A mixture of made threes and a presence down low frustrated the Orange, allowing Marquette—and more specifically Gardner—to break the defensive will of Syracuse.
If the game against Indiana is any indication, the ills of the 2-3 zone have been addressed and repaired. The big difference between Indiana and Marquette is that Marquette has seen the zone and defeated it.
Syracuse could get away with mistakes in its zone against Indiana. It cannot make mistakes against Marquette.
The zone must be played to perfection if the Orange are to succeed. This means closing passing lanes and not cheating out on shooters. This would force Marquette to settle for more jump shots and not have such a presence in the paint.
February’s battle between Marquette and Syracuse saw Marquette shoot 29-of-35 from the free-throw line while Syracuse only shot 5-of-7.
A good part of this disparity was caused by the deficiencies of the zone, which allowed Marquette’s players to move freely in the lane, forcing a good deal of fouls.
Cleaning up the zone could fix some of these problems, but not all. This is a back-to-basics problem.
Starting with keeping their hands straight up in the air, not leaving their feet on pump fakes, not reaching in and moving in-sync with the rest of the zone are all little things that add up for the Orange.
Fouls are a part of the game, and the disparity was shocking, but a player knows whether he is getting calls against him or not. Understanding how the refs are calling the game and applying it to the style of play is on par with a pitcher understanding the strike zones of different umpires.
Keeping Marquette off the line is a must if the last game is any indicator of how this game will go.
Not to be forgotten is the Orange’s aforementioned 5-of-7 from the free-throw line.
Getting so few free throws is indicative of how the Orange were playing in the midst of their late-season skid.
The Marquette game was the second loss of a three-game slide and exposed Syracuse as a team that could be forced into taking bad shots if rattled. Marquette is a very aggressive team and only getting seven free-throw attempts shows how much the Orange settled for jump shots.
Syracuse is a team that loves to run and is built on players who can slice through the lane. Even without an inside presence, there is no reason for Syracuse to not take the ball to the hoop aggressively.
Some of this is due to their success.
C.J. Fair, who might be the best player on the Orange roster, has developed into a fantastic jump shooter and does not take the ball to the hoop as aggressively as he has in past years.
Brandon Triche, who is also a great slasher, went through a terrible shooting slump and tried to jump shoot his way out of it instead of driving the lane as much as possible.
Again, Syracuse did a good job taking the ball inside against Indiana and should continue to do so against Marquette. This will open up every other aspect of the game and could also take away some of the aggression on the part of Marquette’s defense, which can be bruising at times.
For anyone who has followed Syracuse through the years, there always seems to be at least one player who runs on coach Jim Boeheim’s bad side.
Fab Melo had this distinction for his freshman year. Triche went through this for a little while and this year it seems to be Rakeem Christmas.
This is usually due to stupid fouls or poor positioning.
Boehiem does not suffer fools and has a quick hook when it comes to mental lapses, as they are the downfall of the Syracuse zone.
All the coach asks for is complete obedience and attention to detail. No more, no less. A happy Boeheim is the result of his players doing what he asks. This is because listening to the coach usually results in winning.
More simply stated: when coach is happy, everyone is happy.
As stated earlier, Gardner imposed his will upon Syracuse in February.
Of the 19 balls that left his hand by either field goals or free throws, 18 went through the bottom of the net.
Syracuse cannot afford to let Gardner play so freely without paying for it.
The Orange can either do this with defense, positioning or taking every walk-on on the team and using the "hack-a-Shaq" strategy on him. By any means necessary, Syracuse must remember its roots.
The Big East roots, that is.
Marquette is a big, physical team but so is Syracuse. This is what has made the Big East so tough for other big, physical teams through the years. The Orange just don’t always play this way. This doesn’t mean play sloppy defense, it means that if they’re going to foul, make it count.
Syracuse has made a name for itself with stingy defense. It’s time to remind Marquette and Mr. Gardner of that fact.