Syracuse did it with defense. Jim Boeheim has been labeled a crusty, negative curmudgeon this season (yes, more so than usual), but for the next week, he‚Äôll be referred to as a defensive wizard that turned around an Orange team that had looked like it would have a short stay in March.
Marquette had no answer inside against Syracuse‚Äôs zone, and the Orange took down the Golden Eagles 55-39 to advance to the Final Four for the first time since its National Championship season 2003. Devante Gardner and Chris Otule could not establish any type of post game against the rejuvenated combination of Baye Kieta and Rakeem Christmas. Yet again in this Big Dance the Orange controlled the paint. Tom Crean didn‚Äôt prepare his guards for the length of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche and Buzz Williams let his team jack up 24 threes. The Eagles made just three treys. Marquette is a notoriously bad three point shooting team (at just 30%), but those were the only looks that SU gave them.
Credit has to go to the guards as well. MCW and¬†Triche are playing the best zone D all season. The way the two shifted up top against Marquette was terrific. The Orange forced 14 turnovers and scored 19 points of the Marquette mistakes. The Eagles on the other hand score no points off turnovers. The Per‚Äôfesser – who was as happy as he‚Äôll ever be postgame – knew the pressure was key.
‚ÄúOur defense has been tremendous in this tournament. We were as active in these two games in Washington as we‚Äôve ever been. We gave up 74 to this Marquette team four weeks ago, so it was just a tremendous effort.‚Äù
Just look at the trend. Syracuse shuts down Cal‚Äôs leading scorer Allen Crabbe (18.7 PPG) in San Jose, holding him to just 8 points on 3-9 shooting from the field.¬†Against Indiana? More of the same: Cody Zeller (16.5 PPG) tallied just 10 points on 3-11 shooting. Syracuse finished off its stifling run to Atlanta by totally limiting Vander Blue. The junior shot 3-of-15 from the field.
The turnover battle has been the key for Syracuse. The Orange has forced mistakes and capitalized on the other end. It‚Äôs pretty simple for the Orange right now: defense leads to offense. SU nabbed 10 steals and the Eagles only had 3. Syracuse won that battle against the Hoosiers on Thursday as well, 12-5.
The Orange will now face either Michigan or Florida in the Final Four. Both teams have great guard play, but neither has seen a zone this locked in before. As long as SU is loose in Atlanta, the defense will be ready to grind.
Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald