Syracuse makes its 24th sweet 16 appearance tomorrow against Houston. A spot many didn’t have SU in about a month ago. The credit goes to the Orange’s ability to block out the noise and play their game.
But aside from team persistence, there are plenty of individuals standing out in March. It’s time to give out some mid-tourney superlatives ahead of SU’s tallest task this season.
Although hot takes are fun to entertain, there’s no reason to make one here. Syracuse’s MVP is Buddy Boeheim. The guard has a combined 55 points in his first two tournament games. That accounts for over one-third of the Orange’s tallies in both the round of 64 and 32.
The main brunt of his point total is from behind the arc. Boeheim is 13-of-23 from distance and the first player since 2008 to have at least six threes in each of his first two games in the NCAA tournament. If those stats aren’t enough to hand the junior the MVP crown, he’s shooting 59% from the field as well. The offense is facilitated and run through Boeheim and in terms of value, he checks all the appropriate boxes.
Throughout the regular season, this award was readily given to Quincy Guerrier or Kadary Richmond. It was Guerrier because of his improvement compared to last year and Richmond due to his impact off the bench. But in the tournament, the unsung hero is Robert Braswell. The sophomore isn’t a stand-out player, but he plays his role well and adds a taller option in the 2-3 zone.
Through the last two games, Braswell is a +7 when on the floor. That number isn’t phenomenal, but his timely buckets down the stretch against West Virginia (a layup and three in the final eight minutes) won him this title. The sophomore is averaging 27 minutes a game in the Big Dance, which is just the fourth and fifth time all season he’s eclipsed over 20 minutes. Braswell is playing substantial minutes, defending well, staying out of foul trouble and shooting at an efficient 54% from the field on only 11 shots.
The argument can be made for a plethora of players. Alan Griffin has 3 points in the last two games, but a possible outburst on the horizon can take SU to a new level. Marek Dolezaj is stuffing the stat sheet with at least 11 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game. But the superlative goes to a player in the front court in Joe Girard III.
JG3 is the epitome of an X-factor. His inconsistencies this season play into that. At the end of the day, no one knows if he’ll score three points or drop 30. But his impact in March has been apparent in other departments. The sophomore recorded identical stat lines of 12 points, six rebounds and seven assists in wins over SDSU and WVU. If Girard puts up these numbers on a consistent basis with the potential he has to take over a game offensively if need be, Syracuse is a scary team in general, not just in March.
M.I.I. (Most Important Individual)
This one needed its own category because it could be the reason Syracuse makes a final four push. The most important individual on SU is a former player and current assistant coach, Gerry McNamara.
One of the biggest question marks this season revolved around lack of confidence. In the tournament, that hasn’t been an issue.
“Sometimes (G-Mac) will look at me and say ‘who’s the best shooter on the planet?’ and I’ll just say me and he gives me that confidence,” says Buddy Boeheim on ESPN’s First Take, when asked about his assistant coach. “I work with him more than anyone, everyday, for an hour or hour and a half and there’s no one better to have in your corner than him.”
If McNamara is a catalyst for Boeheim’s success, it’s only a matter of time until it trickles down to Girard, Griffin and others.
In the regular season, the superlatives seemed to change after every game. So, agree or disagree, a new name can be tied to these labels in a matter of 48 hours.