The Orange needs to carry this momentum into Sweet 16 to survive Wisconsin.
After the Big East Tournament loss to Cincinnati, and the mother of all scares from UNC Asheville (not to mention a string of several close calls at the end of the regular season), many were beginning to wonder what happened to the dominant Orange team we had seen. Syracuse had been winning, but not firing on all cylinders. That’s until the second half of the Kansas State game Saturday, when the Orange outscored the Wildcats by 15 points en route to the Sweet Sixteen.
Kris Joseph described how SU upped it a level, and played the way a 1-seed should:
“I think we picked it up on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive end we got what we wanted. We were able to get transition baskets. There was a lot of space on the offensive end. We got open shots, open looks, we knocked ’em down. This is the way I like us to play. Everyone was involved. The scoring balance, it was really balanced tonight. That’s how we’re supposed to play.”
The scoring balance was a big difference from NYC, when Dion Waiters carried most of the offense. SU had four players reach double figures Saturday: Dion led with 18, Scoop added 16, James Southerland poured in 15 on 5-6 shooting, and Joseph kicked in 11 points. That scoresheet is reminiscent of dominating performances earlier this year, and will be a key in Boston. It was a product of better movement and spacing on the offensive end, and a more aggressive mentality to get in the lane instead of settling for jumpers. Joseph believes it was some of the best offense the Orange has played.
“I mean, yeah, in awhile. Offense was really flowing tonight. That’s one thing we haven’t really been doing on the offensive end. We were kind of standing still in the past. Tonight I think we got a lot of movement, which gave us open shots and we knocked them down. It’s all a rhythm thing. James got in a rhythm, Scoop in the second half got in a rhythm. That’s what we want to see. We don’t want to take contested shots. We want to take easy, open shots. That’s what we got.”
That mentality will be key against Wisconsin. The Badgers will look to slow the pace to a crawl, and surely gameplan to keep the Orange out of the paint, just as Cincinnati did. Syracuse needs to respond like Saturday. This team has a tendency to settle for jumpers (look what happened against the Bulldogs last week in Pittsburgh). But SU’s last game showed how much damage it can do when getting the shots Jim Boeheim wants. Kansas State is a hard-nosed defensive team like the Badgers, and the Orange carved up KSU with ball movement, balance, and shot selection.
If Syracuse can carry this offensive play into the Sweet 16, there’s no way Wisconsin can keep up. That was the most impressive half of basketball we have seen from this team in a long time. To reach the Final Four, the Orange will have to prove it found its swagger against K-State, and continue the offensive hot streak it started on Saturday.
Posted: Steve Neikam