Our man Dimes has done some excellent research to provide us some great preview posts of Oklahoma's Sweet 16 match-up against the Syracuse Orange. Now we have the opportunity to get some Syracuse info first hand from one of the guys who knows the team best. Sean is the mastermind behind SBN's Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, and has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the Orange for us. My questions and subsequently his answers are below.
Let's start with Blake Griffin. How many points do you feel that Syracuse needs to hold him to in order to get a win, or do you feel that they should just let him get his points and then try to limit what the rest of the team can do?
Well, I certainly don't think we can let Blake run wild and I don't think Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson would allow that to happen without a fight anyway. That said, if we can keep him around 20 points for the game, I'd consider that a win. It might be more important to try and cut down on his rebounds than anything, to stop Oklahoma from creating second-chance points.
What concerns me almost more than Griffin is the three-point shooters Oklahoma has. The easiest way to beat the 2-3 is to shoot lights out from outside. Easier said than done but Oklahoma is capable. Austin Johnson, Tony Crocker and Willie Warren might end up being the difference if they can hit their shots. If SU can limit their opportunities and force them to take bad shots, it's going to go a long way.
The Orange have now won 9 of their last 10 games. What is different now from when this team struggled from mid-January to mid-February?
Well, to be fair, the biggest difference is the schedule during those two time periods. During that ten-game stretch where they went 3-7, SU played UConn, Villanova, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Villanova again. It was a murderer's row unlike anything I've ever seen. While the Orange got a tough schedule midway through the season, their end-of-year conference schedule was a gift and they took advantage. Of course, that also includes wins over Marquette and UConn so they have done some damage.
In general, I think this team needed to figure itself out. There's a lot of weapons and a lot of ways to use them. The hierarchy needed to be formed. The game plan for when Jonny is off or Rautins can't hit a shot needed to be discovered. The team needed to figure out to win without relying on free throws (and sometimes winning WITH free throws). And they needed a kick in the ass to remember that they're a good basketball team. I think they got it in their heads for a while there that they couldn't match-up against the UConn's of the world. The Big East Tourney changed that. Call it maturity, call it experience, call it whatever but the Orange got it together in the last two weeks.
Guards Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf seem to be the catalysts that spark the Orange . Give us the low down on their games, strengths and weaknesses.
Devo is the more obvious one to break down. His strength is also his weakness. He likes the shoot and occasionally he's pretty good at it. Problem is, when he's not he doesn't really adjust to that. Plus, he's got some ego issues (imagine that!) so he liked to put the team on his back sometimes when that job really belongs to Jonny. But to be fair, based on what we've seen in the last couple weeks, if the game is on the line and time is expiring, I want the ball in his hands.
As for Jonny, as good as he was at the beginning of this season he's only gotten better. I think he found his place as the true leader of this team during the season and now, when he wants to turn it on, there's very few that can stop him. He's pretty smart about when to distribute and when to call his own shot. If I had to point to any kind of weakness, I suppose it would be his frustrations that can get the better of him from time to time.
Don't sleep on Andy Rautins either. It's easy to forget about him because he's so quiet but Andy is our real three-point specialist. He's like Liam Neeson in Taken...he has a very particular set of skills; skills that he has acquired over a long career. Skills that make him a nightmare for defenses.
What is your biggest concern about the Orange going into this game?
Foul trouble. I haven't watched too many Oklahoma games but I can imagine Blake has a tendency to get his opponents into it. Given that we're not a very deep team, especially at the 4 and 5 spots, this could be a big problem for us. Ultimately, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Kristof Ongenaet are the only good players that can body-up to Griffin so if one or two of them have to spend prolonged periods on the bench, that does not bode well.
Other than that, Oklahoma's three-point shooting. If they're shooting lights out, there's not much we can do about that.
Good luck to you guys, I suspect it's going to be a great game either way.
You can check out my answers to Sean's questions here.