SU Had a Lot to Say at its Press Conference Saturday
By Nick Dugan
Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim were in front of the mic ahead of the team’s Second Round matchup with Michigan State on Sunday afternoon. Here are a few takeaways from the press conference:
1. This is a well-rounded Spartans team, to say the least.
Playing a healthy eleven-man rotation, this Michigan State team has been strong in just about every major category this season. The Spartans score 81 points per game, while allowing just 65.2 on the other end. They shoot the ball from behind the arc at an astounding 41.3 percent, which ranks fifth in the country. They spread the wealth, leading the nation with 19.4 assists per game. And when the shots aren’t falling, the Spartans have no trouble grabbing a board. In fact, they average nearly 41 of those every contest. “They have good bigs, good shooters, a good point guard,” Tyus Battle said. “So, just a good all-around team.”
“Michigan State’s a team where you can’t focus on one guy, or two, or three or four,” Jim Boeheim said. “You have to play the whole team.”
MSU touts five players that average double-figures in scoring, including Wooden Award semifinalist Miles Bridges, who leads the way, averaging 17.3 points per game.
2. The zone is effective, but it’s hard work
Once again, reporters asked the two SU guards if they were tired after playing nearly the entire game against TCU. Once again, they deferred. Then someone asked if the zone actually helped the Orange keep their legs deeper into games. “Shoot, nah,” Frank Howard said with a smile on his face. “The zone is, to me, almost kind of a tougher demand … it’s a tough thing to do, but I think when you get it down pat it’s really effective.” ‘Cuse held the Horned Frogs to just 3-of-17 from downtown and 52 total points.
So it can be a demanding style of defense, but Jim Boeheim doesn’t think that his starters mind being out in that zone almost 40 minutes a night. “[I’ve] never had a player that didn’t enjoy playing every minute of every game,” Boeheim said. If you ask them if they’re upset about playing every minute, I don’t think you’d find one of them upset.”
3. Marek Dolezaj’s Big Night
The freshman from Slovakia had himself quite a night in just his second NCAA Tournament game. He dropped 17 points and added four rebounds for good measure, bringing back memories of his career-high night against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.
“If he weighed 200 pounds, 210, he’d probably be one of the best players in the country,” Boeheim said.
On Saturday, everyone also learned just how Dolezaj came to be a member of this year’s Orange squad.
“I’ve only taken one player off tape and he was … the worst player I had,” Boeheim laughed. “Normally we wouldn’t even think about taking somebody off of tape.” But, with the loss of Taurean Thompson late last summer, he ended up being an important recruit in the class of 2017. “We had got some tape and we liked what we saw.” It seems like this decision has worked out so far. The Orange could use another strong offensive contribution from him on Sunday if it hopes to pull off another upset in Detroit.
4. Jim Boeheim defends Tom Izzo
“Tom Izzo would never do the wrong thing. And anybody that thinks other than that – they don’t know Tom Izzo,” Boeheim said.
Boeheim was incredibly defensive of the Michigan State head coach’s character on Saturday afternoon. Izzo has had to answer questions about the handling of multiple sexual assault investigations into MSU athletics, including former basketball players over the past few months. He has insisted that he cooperated with every investigation that was brought to his attention.
“Tom Izzo is not going to do things that aren’t right – 100 percent of the time. On the basketball court, off the basketball court,” Boeheim said. “I’m very proud that he’s a friend of mine.”
The two will square off for the sixth time on Sunday afternoon with the two as head coaches. Jim Boeheim is 4-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans, but the lone MSU victory came in the 2000 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.
5. Jim Boeheim also defends Tony Bennett
On Friday night, University of Maryland Baltimore County became the first ever 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Retrievers defeated the top overall seed in Virginia – by 20 points. UVA finished the season with a record of 31-2 and just one loss in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference. When asked about some negativity surround Bennett and the Cavaliers after their loss, Boeheim spoke to the fickle nature of March Madness.
“Unfortunately, in our business, it’s all about the tournament when you’re a good team,” Boeheim said. “It’s one game, it’s one game.”
The Syracuse head coach didn’t stop there. “I’ve lost in the tournament. Everybody has,” he said. “If I could hire a coach in this country and I could get Tony Bennett, there would be nobody in second place.” Bennett has won the regular season ACC crown and ACC Coach of the Year in three of the past five seasons.