Syracuse And The Madness
March 31, 2016
The Final Four is this weekend and we have some usual suspects. We have a perennial contender in North Carolina. We have a likeable group of no-names who play hard for the best dressed coach in American in Villanova. We have Oklahoma, a school with the best player in the country in Buddy Hield. And then we have Syracuse.
Syracuse was not even supposed to make the tournament. The 10th-seeded Orange became only the fourth double-digit seed to make the Final Four. Parity has hit the college game which made it likely that we would have a surprise in the tourney.
But Syracuse? This was a program under duress, one that lost head coach Jim Boeheim for the first nine games of the conference season while he served punishment for NCAA violations.
This was a program that gave lowly St. John’s one of its eight wins this season, a squad that dropped five of six heading into Selection Sunday. Hardly any pundit or predictor had the Orange making it into the field of 68. The NCAA selection committee didn’t agree and now Syracuse will meet North Carolina on Saturday.
The Orange trailed in their Elite Eight matchup against Virginia by 16 points in the second half. But they outscored the Cavaliers 29-8 down the stretch to win 68-62. Syracuse plays Saturday’s late game against the Tar Heels, who beat Notre Dame 88-74. It’s a matchup of ACC teams and it should be noted that North Carolina has beaten Syracuse twice this season.
The first semifinal pits my choice Oklahoma against Villanova. Oklahoma won big in a meeting back in December, 78-55.
Here is why I like Oklahoma. They have an experienced coach in Lon Kruger. He has been in the Final Four before when he guided Florida there back in the 1990s. Kruger enjoys the productivity of Hield who is averaging over 25 points a game in the tournament. Twice, Hield had cracked the 35 point mark in four tourney games.
Oklahoma will be tested by Villanova. The best dressed coach I spoke of earlier is Jay Wright. He has guided the Wildcats to the tournament in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Like I said, this team does not have a star.
Their leading scorer, Ryan Arcidiacono, averages 12 points a game. It may be Villanova’s turn as they were seeded No 1 or No 2 the two years before this year but did not make it out of the first weekend either time. Now, they’re back at the Final Four for the first time since 2009.
I just don’t see Syracuse giving North Carolina much of a game. Boeheim might find some magic though. This is his fifth Final Four and he did win one awhile back with Carmello Anthony. The Orange are led by Michael Gbinije who leads the team at 17.6 points a game. But what has always made Syracuse a tough tournament team is its legendary 2-3 zone defense. Schools just seem to struggle with it in March. But like I pointed out earlier, North Carolina has beat the Orange and the zone twice this season.
How about North Carolina? Roy Williams has now taken the Tar Heels to the Final Four for the fourth time. This matches the number of times he reached it with Kansas. Brice Johnson is the star. The big man is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game during tournament action. The Heels are the only No. 1 seed to make the Final Four. The program is in its record 19th Final Four, but first since 2009. It should come as no surprise that UNC is favored this weekend. After all, the Tar Heels won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles while playing in a conference that placed four teams in the Elite Eight.
I will stick with the Sooners who will edge out North Carolina in the Finals.