Syracuse is one of the most versatile and explosive teams in the country. They play in the Big East so odds are you have seen them play about twenty times this season but, in our eyes, nothing beats getting quality insight from someone who knows the ins and outs of a program. For that reason, we have called on the outstanding Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician to learn a bit more about what has made Syracuse a favorite to get to the Final Four. Sean Keeley manages the site and also writes from SB Nation's home page so he has some great insight which we hope you enjoy...
The Slipper Still Fits: Arinze Onuaku's injury is something Gonzaga fans have been following since the brackets were revealed. What can you tell us about AO's injury and how you think that impacts how the Orange will gameplan for the tournament if he can't go.
Sean Keeley: I can tell you what I think. I think Syracuse is trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes and pretend that AO has a shot to play soon. I am 99% sure he won't play against Gonzaga and I would not be surprised at all if he didn't play next weekend (God willing) or beyond. If you saw the injury happen, you know it was serious. Way more serious that they initially made it out to be. And we're talking about a guy who's already had major surgery on that knee. Twice.
With his future ability to play professionally factored in, I just don't know how much they'd risk it. And even if he does come back, he won't be anything close to what he's been all season.
Being that we're already playing with a short rotation, it looks like you'll see something similar to what we did with Vermont. Rick Jackson is the center, Kris Joseph is in at forward, Scoop Jardine is the sixth man and DaShonte Riley is a big body we can insert for a couple minutes at a time. No one expects Riley to do anything except grab a couple boards, maybe draw some fouls that Jackson would have normally gotten and try not to screw up. If he does that, it's a win.
The frontcourt is not as imposing physically without AO but it's a lot more athletic. And, let's be honest, our team free-throw percentage just skyrocketed. I'd much rather have AO in there but the Orange can handle themselves without him. They just can't afford another injury.
TSSF: Playing as the one-seed obviously comes with a lot of pressure in the NCAA Tournament. How do you see this team responding to that pressure as the tournament goes on?
SK: I saw everything I needed to see against Vermont. They were the better team, they were the better athletes and they were supposed to win by 25. That's exactly what happened. I don't think they'll look at Gonzaga the same way, but I feel like these guys have that confidence back that was lacking last week. It's cliche but these guys play much better with a chip on their shoulder. They played better as the team-that-came-out-of-nowhere than the No. 1 team in the Big East/Nation.
I'm not worried about the team feeling the need to live up to the seed. I'm more concerned with the team showing up 100% of the time, which, has been an issue at times. Especially lately.
TSSF: I've seen Bob Knight explain the 2-3 zone on ESPN about a thousand times which obviously means I need further explanation. What is the one thing about Boeheim's zone defense that makes it so strong?
SK: Here's the thing...it's not the zone itself. It's the players. We've been playing the same zone for years. Nothing has changed. Except for the athletes. You've got Andy Rautins, who's played five years in this defense, up top and down below. You've got Jackson and Jardine, who have three years in the system. You've got Wes Johnson, who spent all of last year mastering the zone. Wes, Joseph and Triche are great athletes, so that helps as well.
In year's past there's always been a liability on the defensive end (Donte Greene, Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf). Not incidentally, these were also me-firth guys (most of the time). We don't have anyone like that this year. Even Wes Johnson, who is unselfish to a fault. These guys are quick, athletic and they know the system inside and out. That's what makes it so good.
TSSF: There are obviously not many holes in Syracuse this season as their record and resume clearly indicate. If you were coaching Gonzaga, however, what weaknesses would you try and expose?
SK: It sounds so simple, but, if you find one player in particular with a hot-hand from three-point range...milk it all day long. You want to break the zone? Shoot Syracuse out of it.
I would also take the ball to Rick Jackson. If you get Rick Jackson in foul trouble early, Syracuse is in major trouble. Like I said, DaShonte Riley is just a big body. After that, we're out of big men. If Jackson has to spend a lot of time on the bench, not only does allow the Bulldogs to run wild in the paint but it also forces Wes Johnson and Kris Joseph to plau out of position on defense. Confusion could reign. Offensively, the Orange will have to rely on the outside shot more, which could work for or against you depending on how Andy, Wes & Kris are feeling.
TSSF: Be honest, what gave you more satisfaction: Syracuse dominating Vermont or Georgetown getting squashed out by Ohio?
SK: 100%, beating the f***ing piss out of Vermont. I don't think a one-seed has ever wanted to beat a 16-seed so much before. I don't care that no one from 2005 is still playing, that loss was to them in the first-round was heart-breaking. We really felt like that was another team that could make a run to the Final Four. Instead, we lose to Vermont in the first round and Tom Brennan gets a job with ESPN to remind us of that fact for the next four years. This was some serious payback and vengeance on a spiritual level.
But watching Georgetown get crushed by Ohio University was pretty fun too...
Thanks to Sean from TNIAAM for helping us out as we try to learn more about Syracuse. I urge you to check out his site and SBNation.com for up to the date tournament news.