Final Four Countdown: Will Syracuse Continue Their Strong Run?
In our previous Final Four Countdown addition, we covered the upcoming Oklahoma Sooners vs. Villanova Wildcats game. Now, let’s cover the other two teams that will fight to make it to the National Championship game.
While it’s certainly a possibility for the last #1 seed, North Carolina (32-6), to roll right through #10 seed, Syracuse (23-13), a lock it is not. Like North Carolina, Virginia also beat Syracuse during the regular season. However, this is not the regular season Syracuse team. With that being said, their record can be disregarded. This deep into March Madness, Malachi Richardson (13 points per game) and Tyler Lydon (10 points per game) are no longer freshmen. Richardson led the improbable comeback against Virginia with a performance reminiscent of Carmello Anthony’s freshman season.
A knock on Syracuse is that they beat lowly-seeded teams. Well, there’s a March Madness cemetery full of top seeds that couldn’t. Another knock is that there were losing late in the second half against both Gonzaga and Virginia, and got “lucky” to escape with victories. The same can be said of Jim Valvano’s 1983 NC State team, which trailed with under two minutes to play in nearly every tournament game and won the National Championship.
The Syracuse defense has been superb. Their full-court pressure has been more even impressive than their vaunted 2-3 matchup zone and largely responsible for their berth in the Final Four. North Carolina was 10th in the country, averaging 83 points per game. In addition, despite some sporadic hot streaks, they are not a great 3-point-shooting team. If the Syracuse zone can force the Tar Heels to settle for outside shots, it could keep them in the game. Lydon and Tyler Roberson continuing to block shots and control the boards will be vital to preventing Brice Johnson (17 points per game, 10 rebounds per game) and the rest of a big talented Tar Heel front line from easy buckets. Not an easy task as North Carolina is among the top rebounding teams in the country.
While there’s not a large rebounding disparity between the teams, North Carolina enjoys several other advantages. North Carolina was 27th in the country in foul-shooting, while Syracuse was 190th. To their credit, the Orange did make 20-25 against Virginia. The Tar Heels also have far more depth, with 8 players average 20 minutes per game to Syracuse having 5 that average 30. Fatigue could play a role for the Orange as North Carolina will push a track meet tempo.
Both teams have experienced senior leadership. For the Heels, it’s point-guard Marcus Paige and Johnson. For Syracuse, they’ll need seniors Trevor Cooney (12 points per game) and leading scorer Michael Gbinije (18 points per game) to play better than they did against Virginia to pull off the upset.
On paper, the Final Four countdown shows that North Carolina has too many advantages for Syracuse to overcome, but the fun of March Madness is when the results deviate from what we expect.