Previewing The Syracuse Orange Sweet 16 Matchup

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#2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Syracuse
South Regional Semifinal
Friday, March 27, 2009 6:27PM Central - Memphis, TN
Winner plays either #1 North Carolina or #4 Gonzaga

Storylines

Oklahoma advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 73-63 win over Michigan on Saturday afternoon. It was the first time OU has advanced to the Sweet 16 since Kelvin Sampson's 2002-2003 squad went to the Elite Eight. Coincidentally, that year the Sooners met Syracuse and the Orange went on to win the national championship with Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, and crew.

For Syracuse, this is the first Sweet 16 since 2004. Basically this will be a matchup of two squads that have been a bit disappointing in recent years, and have both had Sweet 16 droughts of at least 5 years. However, both programs are historically good (give the edge to Syracuse on basketball history though).

Of the teams in the South Region, Oklahoma has the shortest travel distance despite the committee usually trying to protect the 1 seed. Oklahoma is the closest, North Carolina has a bit more travel, and Gonzaga and Syracuse both have long trips. Anyways, that's a story that people like to play up a lot, but a historical GIS analysis says it's really not that important.

It will be a matchup of a veteran coach (Jim Boeheim who has coached at Syracuse since 1976) and a new coach (Jeff Capel, one of the younger coaches in Division I). It will also be one of four (yes four - how boring) 2 seed vs. 3 seed matchups. In fact, without considering a 5 seed over a 4 seed an upset, there will only really be one Cinderella team in the Sweet 16 this year - 12 seed Arizona in the Midwest bracket. There were some first round upsets, but it all evened out by the Sweet 16, so there are a lot of heavyweight matchups - OU vs. Syracuse will be no different.

Full preview after the jump (click link below)...

Getting To Know The Orange

Starters

Arinze Onuaku - F/C 6'9" 275 Junior - 10.4 ppg 7.4 rpg
Rick Jackson - F 6'9" 240 Sophomore - 8.2 ppg 5.8 rpg
Paul Harris - F 6'4" 230 Junior - 12.4 ppg 8.1 rpg 2.2 apg
Eric Devendorf - G 6'4" 180 Junior - 15.8 ppg 2.0 rpg 3.0 apg
Jonny Flynn - G 6'0" 185 Sophomore - 17.5 ppg 2.8 rpg 6.7 apg

Other Rotation Players

Andy Rautins - G 6'5" 205 Junior - 10.2 ppg 3.3 rpg 3.0 apg
Kristof Ongenaet - F 6'8" 215 Senior - 3.3 ppg 4.8 rpg
Kris Joseph - F 6'7" 220 Freshman - 3.3 ppg 2.4 rpg

Syracuse features an experienced rotation of players. Rautins has started for most of the year, but in the tournament, Boeheim has brought him off the bench (for significant minutes) anyways, while starting Rick Jackson. Really, the players that will make an impact are the 5 starters and Rautins, who have all had about 30 minutes per game or more in the tournament so far. The bench has not been used much at all for the entire year, but has been used even less so down the stretch and in the tournament. For the entire season, from the KenPom site, the bench minutes are at about 24%, which is good for a dismal 312th in Division 1. Flynn and Devendorf basically play the entire game.

Interesting stat to illustrate the minutes the starters play: Jonny Flynn has played 1,339 minutes this season, an average of 37.1 per game. Only John Wallace (1,379), Lazarus Sims (1,352) and Sherman Douglas (1,348) have played more minutes in a single season at Syracuse. (courtesy of syracuse.com)

Their guards are their playmakers and Devendorf has had the hot hand lately. He's scored at least 20 points in 4 of the last 5 games - a stretch that basically includes the Big East and NCAA tournaments. In fact, Jonny Flynn really is the heart and soul of the team. People can talk about Devendorf and Rautins hitting treys, but Flynn leads the team in scoring and minutes, and Syracuse is 14-2 when he shoots 50% or better from the field. Anyone who watched the Greatest Game Ever knows how good Flynn has been for Syracuse this year.

Weaknesses to Exploit

Offensive Turnover%: 20.5, 183rd nationally
Defensive Turnover%: 18.6, 279th nationally
Giving Up Offensive Boards: 270th nationally
Free Throw%: 64.5, 300th nationally
Giving Up Steals%: 11.0, 281st nationally

Surprisingly, the Orange and the Sooners seem remarkably similar with regards to weaknesses. Both teams rely heavily on starters, both have trouble with turnover margins, both miss a fair number of free throws, and both get the ball stolen a fair amount when pressed.

Syracuse is actually a worse free throw shooting team than OU, and has been one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the tournament so far. Luckily they were able to blow out Stephen F. Austin and used the 3-pointer to take down Arizona State. In a close game, this could be a key.

The Orange play a 2-3 matchup zone which has been their trademark under Jim Boeheim. This causes some problems for some teams who simply don't gameplan to beat it enough. Back in 2003, this was the case as Syracuse blew out OU in the Elite Eight. Hopefully Capel comes up with a more imaginative gameplan than Sampson did. However, the 2-3 zone (and any zone for that matter) makes teams vulnerable to giving up offensive rebounds. This has been the case all year with Syracuse, and showed early on against Arizona State. Unforunately for the Sun Devils, they shot way too many contested threes, and that's why they lost.

The Sooners have played one team this year (at least one competitive team) that played exclusively zone - Michigan. As would be suspected, Blake Griffin was a monster on the glass (15 rebounds). Not only that, but the Michigan zone was exposed when deceptively fast wing players were able to penetrate and kick a bit - most notably Taylor Griffin.

Finally, the Orange are susceptable to turnovers. There is nobody on the roster with better than a 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio on the year. OU executed the press pretty well against Michigan at times, and created some errors from the Wolverines.

Syracuse is a very streaky team. They started 16-1. Then they went on a stretch where they posted a 3-7 record. Then they finished 9-1. They are a solid 16-3 at home but only 12-6 on the road and at neutral sites.

Keys To Victory

  • Pressure: As with any streaky team who has hit their stride, you have to find some way to mix it up and knock them off their game. OU should selectively apply the press like they did against Michigan. Their man-to-man defense needs to continue to be solid. If Tony Crocker can continue his solid defensive performance in the tournament and Juan Pattillo can be a mistake eraser, the pressure to outscore Syracuse will be lessened.
  • Win The Turnover Battle: It sounds simple, but it's easier said than done.
  • Dominate The Paint: The Orange give up lots of second chance points and offensive rebounds. Blake is good at this, but OU's other big men (Taylor, Juan, Ryan/Orlando) need to step up.
  • No Easy Points: This applies to perimeter defense (don't give them open 3's), but also to layups and dunks. If they are going hard to the basket, foul them hard. Make them earn it from the stripe because they haven't even made 2 out of every 3 foul shots.
  • Penetrate: There will be alleys in the zone. Blake will be the most dominant post player in the game. Penetrating and being aggressive to the rim gets the other team in foul trouble. Syracuse is not a "deep" team, so getting them in foul trouble early would help a lot. Willie Warren can really help in this regard. When he drives to the rim, the Sooners are hard to beat.
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