It has been an up and down season for the Syracuse men’s basketball team.
At times, the Orange have seemed to be among the elite teams in the country. On other occasions, Jim Boeheim’s team has looked poised for a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Through their first 19 games, Syracuse was one of the favorites to win the national title. The Orange went 18-1, defeating almost all of its opponents by double-digits. They even knocked off top-ranked Louisville on the road, in a game they played without James Southerland, their second-highest scorer.
On Jan.26, things started to go downhill. An overtime loss at Villanova began a stretch in which the club lost seven of its final 12 regular season games, culminating with a 21-point blowout at Georgetown.
In the Big East Tournament, though, Syracuse turned things around, winning three games and making it to the championship game. They defeated ranked Pittsburgh and Georgetown teams on their way to the final.
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On Thursday night, No.4 Syracuse will conclude Day 1 of the field of 64 with a contest against No.13 Montana. Which Syracuse team will show up in the club’s attempt to make its first Final Four since 2003?
Below is a complete March Madness preview for the 16th ranked Syracuse Orange.
Jim Boeheim is known for playing a short rotation, often giving significant minutes to only seven players each game. A few of those players will have an especially big impact on whether or not the Orange make it out of their portion of the bracket.
When James Southerland was suspended for academic reasons, Syracuse learned just how important the senior is to their success. Southerland is the team’s most effective three-point threat, and the Orange's offense is considerably more effective when he’s on his game.
Southerland was the main catalyst for the team’s run in the conference tournament, as he hit 19 of his 33 attempts from behind the arc. In Syracuse losses, the forward is averaging five fewer points per game.
The team’s starting backcourt will have to provide open looks for Southerland if they want to win multiple games. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams have shown the potential to be a dominant backcourt, and could be the difference in whether or not the Orange have a successful postseason.
Carter-Williams will be one of the top point guards in the 2013 NBA Draft, but his poor decision-making has often hurt the club. Triche can be a dynamic scorer, but he often has terrible shooting nights. The shooting guard had nine games this season in which he shot 25 percent or less from the field.
C.J. Fair has been the team’s best overall player, while Carter-Williams and Triche could provide the scoring the Orange need to go deep in the tournament.
Despite their inconsistencies, Syracuse shouldn’t have much trouble in their first matchup. They are schedule to play a Montana team that doesn’t have notable wins and competed in a subpar conference.
The Orange should be able to manhandle the Grizzlies on the boards, who rank just 309th in the country in rebounding. Montana isn’t very big, sporting just one player above 6’9 that gets significant playing time.
The one thing Syracuse will have to be aware of is Montana’s ability to shoot. If the Orange aren’t active on the perimeter of its 2-3 zone, the 13th ranked three-point shooting team in college basketball could keep the game close.
After their first game, though, Syracuse won’t have an easy time advancing. A potential matchup with UNLV could give the Orange some trouble. The Rebels are a terrific rebounding team, and Syracuse will have trouble matching up with Anthony Bennett. With 16.1 points and 8.1 boards per game, the freshman is one of the best players in the tournament.
All of the teams seeded higher than Syracuse would present them with problems. The Marquette Golden Eagles, seeded No. 3, have already beaten them this season, while the No.2 Miami Hurricanes are regarded by some as the best squad that isn’t a top seed. The Indiana Hoosiers, the top seed in the region, may have the most talented team in the nation, led by Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
The top portion of Syracuse’s bracket may be as tough as any other region.
Syracuse may have the best chance of any four-seed to win the title. According to the online betting Web site Bovada, the Orange are tied for 12th with 25/1 odds to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
If the Orange play their best, it can certainly make a run to the Final Four. They are well prepared to play tough competition, having participated in arguably the best conference in all of college basketball. A few hot shooting nights by guys like Southerland and Triche could put the Orange passed the Elite Eight for the first time in a decade.
However, this squad has struggled with consistency which makes the chances of a strong NCAA Tournament run seem unlikely. Syracuse’s lack of a low-post scoring puts the onus on their guards and perimeter shooting. A poor shooting night or bad decisions by the backcourt late in games may prevent the Orange from being a serious contender in the East region.
Predicted Finish: Sweet Sixteen