Why The 2017-18 Syracuse Orange Can Make a Run
By Matthew Wieselthier
Eleven-seeded Syracuse snuck its way into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. And while once again, SU’s inclusion is under heavy scrutiny, Jim Boeheim and bunch have a shot to make another deep run in the Big Dance.
Fear the First Four
Syracuse enters this year’s tournament as the final team selected in the at-large field. For SU, that means a trip to Dayton to participate in the First Four, essentially a play-in round before the tournament begins. The Orange faces the Arizona State Sun Devils. Nick Dugan already told you what to look out for from the third of three Pac-12 teams in the year’s tournament and our ‘Cuse Countdown analysts also gave you their thoughts on whether or not Syracuse could make it to Detroit. But let’s assume that the Orange is able to win on Wednesday night. Historically, at least one First Four team goes on a run. In fact, since the tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011, at least one First Four team made it to at least the Round of 32 each year. SU would get a date with TCU in Detroit barring a win in Dayton, and a meeting with a not so friendly face in Jamie Dixon, who was 15-6 against Syracuse when he coached at Pittsburgh.
The No-Fun Zone
Jim Boeheim has made a living with the 2-3 zone at Syracuse. After the 2016-17 season where the zone looked like it was fried (allowed 71.1 PPG, 141st in the NCAA), Boeheim revamped the defense, and it is the best its looked in years. This year’s squad is winning games on the defensive side, ranking 16th in the nation at 64.5 PPG. A big help for the zone is long players, which the Orange have this year with the tallest team in the country. Every player that is out there can impact a shot or move by just using their size. In addition, the zone only gets more dangerous in the Big Dance, which is a big reason that Jim Boeheim is the 5th winningest coach in the NCAA Tournament (which doesn’t include those vacated by the NCAA). The lack of time to prep for the unconventional defense helps Syracuse tremendously, especially in a year where the Orange is winning on defense. Besides, it’s defense that wins championships, and on that end, SU is set.
Getting Hot at the Right Time
Jim Boeheim’s squad is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, most notably with a win against Clemson in the regular season finale. In round one of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament against Wake Forest, Marek Dolezaj (20 points) and Paschal Chukwu (14 points) played some of their best offensive basketball of the season. The competition may not have been the best but even in the next game against North Carolina, Dolezaj came out playing with aggression and kept Syracuse’s energy up early on. That was a small sample size, but if Dolezaj is able to put up double-digits in points, along with solid performances from Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett, this team can make some waves.
Yes, it is cliché. Yes, it can be said about any team. But why not Syracuse. The beginning of the run isn’t the hardest in the world. Arizona State is playing some of its worst basketball of the season at the moment and TCU isn’t exactly playing how it did in the non-conference schedule either. The other thing is looking for help from other places in the bracket. The Second Round could mean a meeting with Michigan State. That may sound familiar to 2016 ‘Cuse fans, but that year Middle Tennessee State upset the Spartans, and this year, Bucknell is no team that Tom Izzo and company can just overlook. If the right teams go down, Syracuse can once again shock some people and make a run in a year that once again, no one thought they could even make the Big Dance.
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