Syracuse Strives to Knock off National Champ for Second Consecutive Year
Last season, an up-and-coming Syracuse team went to Kansas City, made an unthinkable comeback, and eventually sent the Kansas Jayhawks, the defending champions, to the showers after SU won in its favorite time of day: overtime.
This season, North Carolina may be the defending champs, but the Tar Heels face a challenge similar to the up-hill battle the 'Cuse fought and won last year. The Orange had to invade Jayhawk territory to come away with the CBE Classic Title.
UNC must defeat Jim Boeheim's bunch in SU's home away from home. That's no easy task considering the 'Cuse is 10-2 in its last handful of early-season tournaments that culminated in New York City.
Roy Williams has one of his toughest tasks ahead of him to have his Heels prepared to put points on the board against Syracuse's stingy zone.
Ohio State attempted to stop Carolina's offense in the second half with a sagging 2-3 zone defense, but the Orange will give UNC a completely different look.
Through three games, Syracuse's athleticism and incredible length has allowed Boeheim to crank up the defensive pressure. He's able to send his perimeter players out past the three-point arc to put pressure on the ball.
Boeheim's front line is so long and so effective at blocking shots that quick ball reversal hasn't resulted in easy baskets like past years.
North Carolina does present a challenge that Syracuse may not be able to meet. SU has not seen a team with the menacing size UNC brings to the table.
With six players who stand 6'10'' or taller, Roy Williams will keep sending redwood tree after redwood tree into the paint.
UNC should nullify the 'Cuse's dominance of the paint and hold the edge around the basket, but Boeheim's guard play has been so good that UNC may not be reloading quickly enough to win this early season battle.
Red-shirt sophomore Scoop Jardine looks like a jazz musician from New York City's Village Vanguard anticipating the beat rather than missing it after a season off.
Jardine will soon be playing the lead if he continues to excel. With less experienced and smaller guards running the show for North Carolina, Jardine's ball-hawking skills could be the difference on Friday night.
For now, Syracuse, in its midseason form, has the advantage over a North Carolina team trying to figure the best way to reload its double-barreled shotgun.
Come back in March, however, and Roy Williams will likely have that shotgun locked, loaded, and aimed perfectly. And if that fails, he'll have the depth to fill a backup pistol.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off
The organizers of this event miraculously struck gold with the first two games of the tournament with the pairings of Dayton-Florida State and Villanova-George Mason.
The second round should be just as good, as Dayton probably has the best pair of wins this season and Villanova is a top 10 team.
Kansas State will also tip off against Mississippi, who may be the class of the SEC West.
The Wildcats from Philadelphia are without their top freshman big man, Mouphtaou Yarou, who stayed home sick.
That proved costly against George Mason and could keep Villanova out of the championship game because Dayton's athleticism can exploit 'Nova's lack of size.
The Flyers may have a bunch of players with common last names in a Wright, two Johnsons, and a Williams, but their games have made them stand out. Dayton's needed all four to post outstanding efforts in its two wins against Creighton and 19th-ranked Georgia Tech.
It's a great sign for Brian Gregory's team to beat the Yellow Jackets despite the fact that Chris Wright, who dominated Creighton, couldn't make a positive play to save his life against G-Tech.
Dayton should move on to the finals against the winner of Kansas State-Mississippi.
The Wildcats of Manhattan, not the Manhattan in New York, but rather the ones of Kansas, come with a duo of guards that should challenge what's likely the best defensive backcourt in the SEC.
Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente vs. Chris Warren and Terrico White should be one of the most exciting matchups of the early season. Both duos can score at will, but only Warren and White will likely shut the opponents down.
Mississippi's defense should be the deciding factor.
The final, whether it features Dayton or Villanova against either Mississippi or Kansas State, will likely be won by Dayton/Villanova's half the of the bracket.
Both squads (even 'Nova without Yarou) are better than what the Rebels and Wildcats can bring to the table right now.
Few other quick notes:
- South Carolina should roll through the Charleston Classic. After beating up what's arguably the second-best team in the field, La Salle, the Gamecocks get Big East cellar dweller South Florida, then likely the winner of Miami vs. UNC-Wilmington. It's a chance for a great start to Darrin Horn's second season in Columbia.
- Vanderbilt at St. Mary's should be a defining game for both squads. The Commodores can make good on their sleeper status with a win on the West Coast. The Gaels can show they are for real after losing Patty Mills.
- Providence isn't supposed to be very good, but the Friars are 3-0. They get an Alabama team that's already lost to Cornell. This is a chance for Providence to further increase the Big East's dominance and make the start to the SEC's season even more painful.
- Cornell can show it is really, really for real instead of just pretty for real if it knocks off Seton Hall at home. That would give the Big Red road wins over Alabama and Massachusetts and a home win vs. Seton Hall.
- The 2K9 consolation is nothing to sleep on either. Ohio State against California could set up to be an offensive showcase with the way both teams can score from the perimeter (though you wouldn't know it from Thursday night).
- Oklahoma heads to VCU in a payback game which the Rams almost won last year. This has trap game written all over it for the Baby Sooners.
- Mercer has a history of beating major conference programs. Saturday it gets it shot at Florida State at home.
- On Sunday, Auburn vs. North Carolina State. It's the major conference basement championship. Yippee.
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