2013 Final Four: Syracuse Orange
Just a month after it looked like their season had unraveled, Syracuse is as hot as any team in the 2013 Final Four.
Syracuse had lost seven of its last 12 games heading into the Big East tournament. Jim Boeheim was talking about how he'd rather be golfing, and was testily telling reporters to go get their Pulitzers somewhere else. Meanwhile, his team hardly resembled the group that came out of the gates winning 18 of its first 19 contests.
The Orange were down. Stick a fork in them. There was the swoon down the stretch, punctuated by a shellacking at the Verizon Center in which Syracuse managed a grand total of 39 points against Georgetown in what was the final meeting between the two programs as Big East schools.
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Then, exactly three weeks later, Boeheim's team was clipping the nets at the very same venue, after holding Marquette to the same 39 points to reach the Final Four.
This could be last chance for Boeheim, 68, to win another national title. His last opportunity came a decade ago with Carmelo Anthony, but few would have predicted his 2012-13 team would reach the same Final Four plateau. Especially a month or so ago.
Coach: Jim Boeheim | NCAA tournament record: 52-27
Boeheim's Best finish: National championship in 2003
Assistants: Mike Hopkins, Adrian Autry, Gerry McNamara
G Brandon Triche
G Michael Carter-Williams
F James Southerland
F C.J. Fair
Top reserve: C Baye Keita
Leading scorer: C.J. Fair (14.3)
Leading rebounder: C.J. Fair (6.9)
National titles: 2003 | Last Final Four: 2003
How Syracuse got here: The Orange were shipped out west after a late regular-season collapse of sorts left them with a No. 4 seed. The 'Cuse pounded Montana in its opening contest, then took care of a California team that was playing in its own backyard. That set up a matchup against top-seeded Indiana, and Boeheim's team knocked off the Hoosiers behind Michael Carter-Williams' 24 points and a zone defense that held IU to 33 percent shooting from the field. Syracuse was again stellar on the defensive end in the Elite Eight, holding fellow Big East program Marquette to just 39 points.
Why Syracuse might win it all: Defense and balance. The 2-3 zone has been extremely effective of late, especially in the NCAA tournament, and this 'Cuse team doesn't rely on one player. Four players -- Fair, Triche, Southerland and Carter-Williams all average in double figures. There's always length and athleticism in the Syracuse zone, but these guards at the top of the zone have made it particularly difficult for opposing teams. Teams have made just 14 of 92 shots against the Orange from beyond the arc in the NCAA tourney.
Why Syracuse might not win it all: Everyone in the Final Four has their flaws -- and Syracuse is no exception. It wasn't all that long ago that this team would have been considered a long shot to reach Atlanta. The Orange were erratic, unpredictable and unreliable for the latter half of the regular season. Boeheim's team also doesn't possess enough perimeter shooters and will need Southerland to make shots from deep. Syracuse doesn't have a legitimate low-post presence, and leadership remains questionable.
Player to watch: James Southerland -- Syracuse doesn't have many guys that can stretch the defense and make shots from deep. Southerland is 6-foot-8 and can really shoot it from beyond the arc. He's made 40 percent of his trifectas and allows his teammates to operate with more space on the court.
One guy soaring: Michael Carter-Williams -- His house back in Massachusetts literally burned down on March 25 while he was playing against California. He responded with 24 points in the upset over Indiana and followed it up with 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the victory over Marquette. More importantly, he's only turned the ball over three times in the last two wins.
One guy slumping: The center spot -- Syracuse has gotten virtually no offensive production in the middle from Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita. The duo have combined for just seven points in the past two games.
Notable stat: 3-0. That's Jim Boeheim's record in national semifinal contests. The 68-year-old Hall of Famer lost in the national title game back in 1987 when Keith Smart sank a game-winner to give Indiana the win. He lost to Kentucky in the 1996 title game, and then won it all in 2003 with a team led by Carmelo Anthony.
Final thought: Jim Boehim has been through plenty over the last few years. There's the Bernie Fine saga, the academic suspensions of Fab Melo and Southerland, a reported cover-up of flunked drug tests. Boeheim is 68 and has said he's not retiring, but what if he wins it all? Does he learn from former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who should have walked away after winning it all three years ago? You never know with Boeheim.
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