Many Certainly Wondered about Michael Carter-Williams’ ability to Make Cuse Win. But the Mighty Confident Way he Manhandled Crean’s Warriors last night — Making Crazy Winding layups and Multiple Challenging Willowy jump shots, and playing a Masterful, Crafty, Wondrous floor game — showed us all that the Man Can Work it on a Markedly Competitive, Wonderfully elite level.
And now Marquette’s Contemptible, Wearisome squad is all that stands between this Orange collective and a trip to the NCAA Men’s Championship Weekend.
Last night at halftime, after witnessing the Orange zone in its full glory, I said on Twitter “Shades of 2003 vs. Oklahoma”, when SU toppled the top seed in their region to earn a trip to New Orleans. That game was the true “coming-out party” for the 2-3 Zone. The favored Sooners were completely flummoxed by the Syracuse defense, on their way to the paltry end of a 63-47 score, shocking the world — and the legend was born. Last night’s final score was awfully similar, and for the same reason. Indiana had no answer. They were able to run a few good plays against SU but for the most part they were just swallowed up. The Orange frontcourt, in particular, played the zone masterfully. They were as active as I can ever remember seeing them. One of the weaknesses of the defense can be that forwards have to cover such a wide area, from shooters on the wing to the low block. But CJ Fair, James Southerland, and Jerami Grant were seemingly everywhere on that court. Closing out on Indiana’s stable of shooters and still getting back down low to help out and block shots. I mean, seriously. Syracuse blocked nearly 25% of Indiana’s shot attempts. 11 blocks on 47 shots. Unreal.
On the other side of the ball, SU took advantage of their superior backcourt size as MCW and Triche repeatedly got into the lane against the tiny IU guards. Even when Crean wised up and switched Oladipo onto MCW, Triche was still able to get down the lane with relative ease — and MCW masterfully handled the attention from the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. And that often meant there was a tiny dude guarding James Southerland, which meant a big needed to help on him, which meant a defense out of position, leading to Orange hoops. It’s not like SU played a perfect offensive game; far from it. They had a bunch of turnovers of the “fork-in-eye” variety. But you could tell that they were confident that they’d be able to get a pretty good shot on most possessions, and Indiana by contrast had no such faith in their ability to score.
Let me quickly give some shout-outs beyond the tribute to MCW above.
- James Southerland was a focus of the IU defense all game. He was guarded by Oladipo for much of the first half. That alone tells you how worried the Hoosiers were about him. I want to give him credit for taking only three shots. With the exception of the one three that he did hit, where he used something like ten consecutive screens to get open, he was just very closely guarded all night. So he didn’t force anything, and yet he remained engaged and active on defense and on the glass.
- Welcome back Jerami Grant! Excellent defense and rebounding from the freshman, and a few key ‘garbage points’ too. The defense did not slip when he was in the game, as it had tended to do recently. Boeheim recognized it too, and gave him some key minutes in the 2nd half.
- Baye Matrix Keita was once again the defensive whiz that this team needs him to be. Even though his offense regressed (with that missed dunk and the airball layup) he masterminded the Orange zone all night. In a game where the defense was very spread out on the floor, thanks to the presence of a lot of good opposing shooters, he basically controlled the entire area inside the three-point line single-handedly.
OK, bring on Marquette, for what will hopefully be the last time. Seriously. I’m so sick of those guys. Unfortunately SU won’t have the “only one day to try to prepare for the zone” advantage that has been so good to them over the history of their tournament appearances. And we all remember the game in February where SU was outscored from the foul line 29-5. But remember, that game was on the road and SU only lost by 3. It seems much worse in our memories than it actually was, because of the way Marquette physically punished the SU interior. But slide a few calls into the other column, or get one or two more jump shots to fall, and SU walks out of Wisconsin with a win that night. So fear not, Orange faithful. Our dance is not yet done!