The 2013 NCAA tournament has seen a wide variety of twists, turns, upsets and blowouts. Through the fire, however, has emerged an unlikely Final Four participant in the Syracuse Orange.
In order to make an appearance in the NCAA championship game, Syracuse must receive powerful production from James Southerland.
Syracuse has been marvelous during the NCAA tournament, mixing defensive brilliance with offensive efficiency. If you don't believe that to be true, simply check the numbers.
Thus far, Syracuse is averaging 65.8 points per game and allowing 45.8 points per game—a difference of 20.0 points.
The Orange defeated Montana by a score of 81-34 during the round of 64. In the round of 32, they took down California by a score of 66-60,
During the Sweet 16, the Orange defeated No. 1 seed Indiana by a score of 61-50. That was the lowest scoring output of the season by the Hoosiers—a team that ranked third in the nation at 80.0 points per game.
In the Elite Eight, Syracuse took down Marquette by a score of 55-39. The common theme throughout has been Southerland.
Whether offensively or defensively, Southerland has been the X-Factor.
The Syracuse Orange are a strong offensive team with an elite facilitator in Michael Carter-Williams. With that being said, they also shot just 33.7 percent from beyond the arc during the 2012-13 season.
The exception to their defensive woes is scoring forward James Southerland.
Southerland is averaging 13.5 points on 40.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc for the season. He's also averaging 2.5 three-point field goals per game, which is higher than any other player on the team.
Syracuse will need that type of production from Southerland come the Final Four.
Southerland has stepped up thus far, as he came up with solid offense against California and Marquette. During 'Cuse's six-point win over the Golden Bears, he scored 14 points and made two three-pointers.
On a night in which the Orange shot 38.0 percent from the floor, Southerland also scored 16 points against Marquette—they'll need more of the same against Michigan.
Thus far during the NCAA tournament, James Southerland has made a powerful impact on defense. Even within the 2-3 zone, Southerland has found a way to make his individual mark on defense.
That was never more evident than Syracuse's defensive dominance of Indiana and California.
Against Indiana, Southerland tallied seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals. He helped block off the corner three, protect the rim and pick up slashing ball-handlers.
Due to his contributions, the Orange managed to hold Indiana to its lowest scoring output of the season.
Against California, Southerland finished with nine rebounds and four steals. This is the type of outing that Southerland is capable of, as his length enables him to play the passing lanes.
Should Southerland step up in that regard against Michigan, Syracuse may just make its first national championship game appearance since winning the title in 2003.