If you had Syracuse in your Final Four, well, congrats. The 10th-seeded Orange were not projected to go this far. There was a popular belief that due to their above-average record of 19-13, they did not even belong in the NCAA Tournament.
The majority of bracket “experts” had Syracuse getting knocked out by Dayton in the first round. My, how Jim Boeheim’s squad has surprised us. They beat Dayton, then took out 15-seed Middle Tennessee State, then knocked off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, and finally, disposed of the No. 1 seed, Virginia, in the Elite Eight.
Now that Syracuse is in the Final Four, here’s how the Orange can win it all.
Might as well start with what Boeheim’s teams are known for — the 2-3 zone defense. After losing five of its last six games before the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse revamped the defense. The Orange have allowed only about 56 points per game in the tournament. In the Elite Eight game against Virginia, a solid defensive team itself, a necessary full-court press defense suffocated the Cavaliers. Boeheim said his team’s defense has improved at movement and getting out to shooters, and has also done a better job of rebounding in the tournament. Nasty defense, whether it is the usual zone or an occasional press, is what has propelled Syracuse past opponents for years.
Michael Gbinije & Malachi Richardson
Syracuse has a luxury that many teams do not possess, with a reliable big man and capable guards. Gbinije has provided a consistent presence in the tournament, scoring in double digits in every game. He had over 20 points against both Middle Tennessee and Gonzaga, but did not play as well against Virginia. Luckily for the Orange, Richardson stepped up with 21 points in the second half against the Cavaliers. Throughout the tournament, Gbinije and Richardson have complemented each other with their play. For Syracuse to get past North Carolina, it will take a total team effort. Gbinije and Richardson have the ability to lead that charge.
Nothing to lose
While everyone in America (just about) had picked Kansas, Michigan State, or North Carolina to win the national title, only the truest of homers had Syracuse going all the way. The players know that. There is a ton of pressure on North Carolina to win the NCAA Tournament, especially with the Tar Heels being the only remaining No. 1 seed. Oklahoma and Villanova also had high expectations coming into the dance. Even Syracuse’s players, if they are being honest, probably didn’t expect to make it all the way to the Final Four. This team has a “nothing to lose” mentality. They’ve made it this far. Why not a national title, too?
Featured image by Chad Cooper
Edited by David Bradford