It was a bit of a whirlwind season for the Syracuse Orange. Despite losing four key players, including three NBA draft picks, from last year’s team, expectations were high and remained so until the team started to crash and burn throughout the month of February. But the Orange managed to turn things around during the Big East Tournament and have managed to keep it going in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s a look at how Syracuse made its way out of the East Region and into the Final Four:
First Round – Montana Grizzlies
Final Score: 81 – 34
Some CBS analyst, who shall remain nameless, was awfully quick to pick Montana to upset Syracuse on Selection Sunday, and boy did he look silly wearing an Orange wig after Syracuse blew out the Grizzlies. This game actually broke a record (topping the record VCU set about a half hour earlier) for biggest margin in a tournament game outside of games involving a one seed playing 16 seed.
Montana was the first team to experience an Orange defense that went from great during the regular season to exception during the postseason. The Grizzlies shot 13% (4 of 31) from three-point range and were bewildered by the size and length of Syracuse. Offensively the Orange backcourt led the way, as Brandon Triche scored 20 points and Michael Carter-Williams dished out nine assists.
Second Round – California Golden Bears
Final Score: 66 – 60
This game was not as close as the final score indicates. The Orange held a comfortably lead throughout the game, winning with defense, as they held the Golden Bears to 39% shooting and 19% from the perimeter.
Syracuse struggled from the free-throw line, shooting 63%, which was unfortunate because Cal’s defensive strategy in the second half was to commit a foul every time Syracuse got the ball in the lane, which seemed to happen nearly every possession. This game was as ugly as they get, with an endless parade of fouls, turnovers, and missed free throws, but it was a game the Orange were never going to lose.
Sweet 16 – Indiana Hoosiers
Final Score: 61 – 50
This is the game that started the nation’s obsession with the 2-3 zone. For 40 minutes Indiana looked clueless as to how to attack Syracuse’s defense, as starters Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell were both held scoreless. Indiana’s 20% shooting on three-point field goals (3 of 15) is actually the highest percentage of the tournament by any of Syracuse’s opponents.
In addition to another strong defense effort, Carter-Williams played the best game of his career, scoring 24 points, many of which came in one-on-one situations against Indiana’s star defender Victor Oladipo.
Elite Eight – Marquette Golden Eagles
Final Score: 55 – 39
Syracuse avenged a loss earlier in the season to Marquette to win its spot in the Final Four. It was perhaps the best defensive game of the season for Syracuse, which was a little surprising to see against a conference opponent that should have been familiar with the 2-3 zone, but the Golden Eagles shot just 23% from the field (12 of 53) and turned the ball over 14 times.
Syracuse didn’t have a great offensive game, despite six assists and one turnover from Carter-Williams, but by holding Marquette to 39 points the Orange could afford to save their offense for Atlanta.
A Look Ahead
The Syracuse defense will face its toughest task of the tournament in the form of the Michigan Wolverines, who in many ways are a taller and more athletic version of Indiana. Of course, no one has come close to figuring out the 2-3 zone yet, so to think that Michigan will have significantly more success than the previous four teams seems unlikely. There’s also the fact that Jim Boeheim is undefeated in the Final Four, advancing to the title game in all three tries, as well as 9-0 in his career against John Beilein. It all points to the Orange playing on Monday night, with the national championship on the line.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.