Syracuse needs a blowout badly. More so than any other top seeded team in the South Region. It’s been over two months since the Orange physically dominated a game from start to finish. You can point to the win over Florida State on March 9, but who are you kidding? That was a one-point game approaching the midway mark in the second half. Sure, there were a couple wire-to-wire wins over Clemson and UNC, but SU didn’t hit 60 points in either of those games and didn’t shoot particularly well from the field.
Syracuse needs a spark. A blowout. That’s where Western Michigan steps in. When a team plays in a power conference like the Big East or the ACC, there aren’t many breaks during the regular season. SU finished with five losses over its last seven games. But the Broncos are the perfect matchup for the Orange to kick start its offense in the tournament.
Look what happened a year ago in the first round. Syracuse had a 30-11 lead over Montana and eventually ripped the Grizzlies by 47 points. The Orange shot over 50 percent from the field and attacked the basket. The same must happen tomorrow if SU wants any chance of running the table in the South Region. It needs to put on a commanding shooting clinic.
And Western Michigan is the perfect team to do that against. The Broncos’ game plan is to drive and attack the paint, especially its leading scorer, David Brown. The redshirt senior averages close to 20 PPG. WMU tries to go at the center of the lane, and it has paid off. They took the most free throws out of any MAC team this year. They take about 26 per game. But that’s not how you beat a zone. You need to hit some outside shots every once and a while.
If WMU is just as aggressive as it normally does, Syracuse needs to force turnovers to create a transition game. And the Broncos turn it over more than 14 times per game. In fact, against former Syracuse Assistant Coach Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan Eagles, the Broncos turned the ball over 42 times in two meetings. Remember, Murphy uses the same zone defense as Syracuse. WMU, which is not a terrific three-point shooting team, struggled from downtown against EMU, shooting a combined 28 percent.
A regular old win will not do it. The Orange must challenge itself to blow the doors off of First Niagara Center on Thursday. Only a dominating effort against Western Michigan can promise a run. Perhaps a commanding victory will fuel an emotional spark from a team that has lacked vocal leadership on the court all year long. Virginia just rattled off 3 straight wins in the ACC Tournament thanks in large part to feeding off the energy from the crowd. And in front of what will be plenty of Orange in Buffalo, Syracuse must do the same to jolt itself forward in the big dance.
Posted by: Kevin Fitzgerald