The Syracuse Orange are headed to the NCAA Final Four after a 55-39 victory over the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Elite Eight.
The prospects of the Orange making a long tournament run seemed improbable a month ago when the team lost seven of their final 12 games. After an up-and-down season, things are clicking at the right time for the Orange.
Two impressive victories, including one over the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers, now have Syracuse just two games from its first title since 2003.
While Syracuse has been getting solid production from its stars, such as Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair, the biggest reasons for the recent success have been the ability to play as a team and to adapt to the situation.
James Southerland, who had not come off the bench the entire year, was inserted into the starting lineup during the Big East tournament. That move by head coach Jim Boeheim has proven to be genius as it has added a spark to the Orange offense.
The senior forward got hot from the outside and set a tournament record with 17 three-pointers in four games. He's currently averaging 11 points a game in the NCAA tournament.
Another player who's shown versatility and turned into a key for success is Baye Keita. The junior center had been used primarily for his defense, particularly his ability to block shots. During the regular season, he only had two games in which he scored in double-digits.
Starting in the Big East tournament, Keita has now morphed into a reliable presence down low on the offensive end. In the post season he's averaging over six points a game—that's double his season average.
Perhaps most importantly for the Orange is the fact that Keita has not been a liability from the foul line recently. Typically a struggle for the center, he's shooting 69 percent from the stripe over the last eight games after shooting just 60 percent from the foul line for the year.
Aside from guys stepping up when needed, the current Syracuse hot streak has been helped by a total team concept. Everyone works together, especially while playing the 2-3 zone on defense. The communication has been superb as the Orange have swarmed to the ball and shut down opposing offenses.
Team defense has aided the Orange over the last two tournament games, allowing 50 points to Indiana and just 39 points in the win over Marquette.
There isn't a single superstar on offense, just a mix of talented players who take turns in the spot light. For evidence of that, one needs to look no further than the Orange's four NCAA tournament games. Syracuse has been lead by a different leading scorer in each game.
So far Syracuse has found the perfect formula for success in the tournament and will look to keep it going in Atlanta in the Final Four.
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