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5 Things We Learned from Syracuse's Win over Western Michigan

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2014

5 Things We Learned from Syracuse's Win over Western Michigan

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    Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    Syracuse made a strong statement with its decisive second-round win against Western Michigan, 77-53.

    It shook off some of the pesky problems of the last seven games. 

    While we should not make too much of one game against a solid MAC team, the Orange answered some questions that could point to an exciting run in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

    Here are five things we learned from Syracuse's win over WMU:

     

    Stats and player information provided by ESPN.com.

Baye-Moussa Keita Is a Valuable Part of This Team

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    With all the size and length that Jim Boeheim puts on the floor in his starting lineup, the Orange still benefit greatly when Baye-Moussa Keita comes off the bench.

    The 6'10" senior center from Senegal brings another wave of interior pressure and force. He only plays about 15 minutes per game, and he usually commits a couple fouls.

    But when Keita checks in, he does some serious work on the boards and blocks a shot or two.

    Today was a typical BMK game. He grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots in 16 minutes of action. In the games ahead, when Syracuse is in more of a contest, Keita's contribution will be vital.

C.J. Fair Is Ready to Blow Up

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    It is great news for Syracuse that C.J. Fair is playing with an increased level of focus and determination. After a substandard outing against NC State in the ACC tournament, Fair was locked in against Western Michigan.

    His double-double (14 points and 11 rebounds) raised the bar for what is to come. The 6'8" senior is on a mission to help the Orange finish a dream season that started with 25 consecutive wins.

Jerami Grant Is Playing His Way into the NBA Lottery

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Sophomore forward Jerami Grant is having a breakout season.

    In the last three games, Grant has averaged 17 points (17-of-27 shooting; 63 percent) and eight rebounds. Against Western Michigan, the 6'8" forward scored 16 points (on 6-of-9 shooting), snatched five rebounds and handed out two assists.

    When he is playing like this, Grant is a matchup nightmare.

    A great 2014 NCAA tournament will do nothing but propel him forward in the eyes of NBA scouts. In its mock draft, NBADraft.net currently lists Grant as the 18th pick in the 2014 NBA draft. He is No. 18 on ESPN's Chad Ford's Top 100.

    Grant has made no known public statement about going pro after the season. If he continues to play like he did against WMU, he will definitely have a decision to make later this spring.

Trevor Cooney's Shooting Slump Is over

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    If today's performance in Buffalo is an accurate evaluation, we can say that Trevor Cooney has put his shooting slump behind him.

    Against Western Michigan, he looked confident, he shot in rhythm, and he knocked down one shot after another.

    He scored 18 points, which is the most that the 6'4" sophomore has put up since he went for 33 against Notre Dame on February 3.

    His point production is important. But, more importantly, when Cooney is shooting like this, opponents' defenses have to play the entire floor and cannot clog the lane.

    This changes everything for players like Fair and Grant, who are trying to slash to the rim.

Syracuse's Strength Is Still Its Defense

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Over the years, Syracuse has earned a well-deserved reputation of being a program that wins with defense first. 

    Head coach Jim Boeheim is a lifelong proponent of the 2-3 zone. He recruits players that will be able to suffocate other teams by pressuring and trapping and protecting the paint.

    The Orange always have plenty of length and athleticism on the court. This year is no exception.

    Today's game against Western Michigan was a demonstration in defensive domination.

    'Cuse held the Broncos to 21 points in the first half. For the game, WMU shot 34.7 percent from the field, including 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.

    The destiny of this year's Syracuse team will be determined by many factors. None of them are more important than what it does in stopping its opponents on the defensive end.

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