How No. 1 will fall: Syracuse

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
9:15
AM ET
Syracuse has played through immense adversity.

Bernie Fine was dismissed amid a sexual abuse scandal. Head coach Jim Boeheim made comments backing the assistant that he later retracted. A media firestorm ensued.

[+] EnlargeCooley
Matt Cashore/US PresswireSyracuse has proved vulnerable to physical big men like Notre Dame's Jack Cooley.
Yet the Orange stayed focused.

It looks like a team that’s built for a Final Four run. It's a balanced squad.

And this just in … Syracuse is a very deep team. The Orange have a 10-man rotation.

Dion Waiters is one of the most dynamic reserves in the nation. They’re led by a veteran guard in Scoop Jardine. Kris Joseph is one of the most talented players in the country.

The Orange have been doubted all season. But they just keep winning. And they’ve found that success despite a serious off-court distraction involving Fine. Plus, Fab Melo missed games due to academic trouble. And they still didn’t collapse.

I think this is a resilient squad that can compete with any team in the field.

But it’s not perfect.

Syracuse will fall when a team exposes and capitalizes on its rebounding woes (the Orange have struggled all year with giving up second-chance opportunities).

During a 64-61 overtime victory against Georgetown in February, the Hoyas had a 20-12 advantage on the offensive glass.

Ball control will be pivotal, too. Syracuse forces 16.6 turnovers per game and uses that defensive prowess to spur its crucial transition game.

A team that limits turnovers can make Syracuse play more honest. It'll lose when an opponent can take advantage of the gaps in Boeheim’s zone. In its only two losses of the season, Notre Dame shot 50 percent from beyond the arc and Cincinnati connected on 45 percent of its attempts from the 3-point line. Makes Vandy an intriguing team in the East region.

But a successful opponent will also have to be strong enough defensively to force the Orange to operate in the half court. They love to run and score on the break. They’re not, however, as creative with their half-court game.

They’re great when they’re running. Hard to stop on the break, but a successful opponent will slow them down and force them to use the shot clock instead of relying on quick buckets in transition.

I know the Orange didn’t have Melo against Notre Dame, but in Syracuse’s two losses, they were bullied by Jack Cooley and Yancy Gates inside. Their interior guys are long and athletic, but they’re not that strong or physical.

A successful opponent will have to take advantage of that.

Strength inside, second-chance buckets, slowing Cuse in transition and connecting on 3s against that zone will be keys against this Syracuse team that’s only lost twice this year.

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