College Basketball Nation: 2013 East Regional


 
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The expectation to reach the Final Four is always there for Syracuse.

The bar is never set below a Big East or national title, regardless of the personnel.

Yet, getting to these celebrated benchmarks is extremely difficult. Nothing is a given, but coaches are constantly graded and judged by whether or not they reach this pinnacle of the profession.

So, here are Syracuse and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, back in the Final Four, 10 years after the last trip, and with as much of a chance to win the national title as any of the previous three appearances in 1987, 1996 and 2003.

"Tom Crean did a great job and sat here [Thursday] and said he had a great year," Boeheim said, in the hallway of the Verizon Center, of the Indiana coach whose Hoosiers were muzzled by the Syracuse zone two days earlier in what was arguably the Orange's best defensive performance of the season.

"I don't believe that,'' Boeheim said. "They left at 2 o'clock in the morning. That was a Bobby Knight move. It's the way it is. If you're not so good, getting in the tournament is OK."

Boeheim talked about how difficult it is to break through, citing the recent trips for Butler, VCU and George Mason. "Some teams don't get to the tournament final," he said. "It's just hard to do this. It's four games. You can do it. It's just hard.''

Matchups have to be in a team's favor, and it can't have injuries and eligibility issues. And a team must have something that it does exceptionally well, some sort of identity to bank on when there is adversity.

Time has flown. Hakeem Warrick's block of Michael Lee was the final dagger for Syracuse in its title-game win over Kansas 10 years ago. Carmelo Anthony played his only season of college basketball that year before going to the NBA.

There were a number of chances for Syracuse to get back here, but no team -- yes, no team -- played the Syracuse zone as well as this edition during the NCAA tournament since 2003. The Orange have dominated their first four opponents -- Montana, Cal, Indiana and Marquette -- more so than any other team left in this field.

For Andy Katz's full column, click here.

Saturday's Elite Eight: statistical recap

March, 31, 2013
3/31/13
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The common thread in the two Elite Eight games Saturday was the poor shooting efforts of the losing teams. Syracuse's zone and Wichita State's shot-blocking proved to be significant difference-makers.

Here's a statistical recap of each contest.

Syracuse’s zone wins out again
Marquette ran into the same issues others have in this NCAA tournament. Add the Golden Eagles to the list of those who couldn’t handle Syracuse’s zone defense.

The win over Marquette represented a statistical turnabout for Syracuse, which had been held to 39 points in the same arena against Georgetown a few weeks ago, and put the Orange in the Final Four for the first time since their championship season in 2003.

The 39 points by Marquette tied the record for fewest points in an Elite Eight game, set by San Francisco against UCLA in 1973 (the Elite Eight began in 1951).

The 39 points were the fewest by a No. 3 seed or higher in any game (the previous record was 44 by Michigan State last year versus Louisville).

The biggest issue for Marquette: It made four of 36 shots outside the paint.

It was the fourth-worst shooting performance outside the paint in this year's tournament. The Golden Eagles were the fourth straight team to shoot less than 28 percent on such attempts against the Orange.

Marquette had 14 turnovers and 12 field goals. The Golden Eagles were the third team that had more turnovers than field goals against Syracuse.

Syracuse also had 19 points off turnovers compared to none for Marquette.

That was fueled by the five steals of Michael Carter-Williams, who became the fourth player to have 10 points, five assists and five steals in an Elite Eight game. (Tyshawn Taylor was the most recent, for Kansas last season.)

For the tournament, the Orange have forced 67 turnovers and allowed 61 field goals.

The win made Jim Boeheim the fourth coach to make the Final Four in four different decades, joining Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith. One of the former two will join Boeheim on Sunday.

Boeheim is one of six coaches who are 3-0 all-time in national semifinals, along with Phog Allen, Billy Donovan, Steve Fisher, Ed Jucker and John Thompson.

Wichita State with an unlikely performance
Wichita State becomes the fifth team seeded ninth or lower to make the Final Four with its upset of Ohio State. The other four teams to match what the Shockers have done all lost in the national semifinals.

The Shockers gave the state of Kansas 20 Final Four appearances. The University of Kansas leads with 14. Kansas State has four. Wichita State now has two, this being its first since 1965.

Ohio State shot 31.1 percent from the field, the second-lowest percentage it shot in any game this season. The Buckeyes had their three-game Elite Eight winning streak snapped. Their last loss in the Elite Eight had been in 1992 against Michigan.

Wichita State's nine shot blocks were its second-most in any game this season.

The Buckeyes were 7-for-35 from outside the paint, their worst shooting day outside the paint in any of the past four NCAA tournaments.

Ohio State also failed to take advantage of Wichita State's 12 turnovers, turning them into only six points. That matched the fewest points off turnovers for the Buckeyes in any game this season.

Video: Breaking down Syracuse's win

March, 30, 2013
3/30/13
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Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Diger Phelps and Seth Greenberg analyze how Syracuse shut down Marquette to advance to the Final Four.

WASHINGTON -- A look at Syracuse's 55-39 win over Marquette in the East Regional final Saturday.

Overview: This was hardly a work of art. But nothing involving Big East teams tends to be beautiful this season.

Syracuse manhandled Marquette in the way the Golden Eagles should be used to this season. The Golden Eagles were completely flummoxed by Syracuse's zone defense and were rendered useless against it throughout the game.

Syracuse's offense wasn't that much better for most of the first 25 to 30 minutes before the Orange clicked effectively. The Golden Eagles couldn't shoot, make 3s or keep possessions alive with multiple offensive rebounds. The stats weren't telling the whole truth. The numbers said the Orange did well on the offensive boards, but they didn't finish at any kind of high percentage.

Meanwhile, Syracuse had Michael Carter-Williams getting to the line on drives, James Southerland making 3s and an effective C.J. Fair.

This might not be Syracuse's most talented team, but it has ended up being one of the Orange's best teams under coach Jim Boeheim. This team gets the way he wants to play, and uses its length and size exceptionally well to run the zone to perfection.

The Orange got to celebrate on Big East rival Georgetown's home court with a Final Four trip, something that had to be especially sweet to Boeheim, the Orange and all their fans.

Turning point: The Golden Eagles had cut the lead to five points at 30-25 nearly midway through the second half, and it looked like Marquette had a chance to actually make this a game. But Fair hit on a spin move inside, and then Southerland converted a traditional three-point play to push the lead to 10. Carter-Williams then drove through the lane uncontested for a layup, and the lead was up to a dozen.

Star of the game: Carter-Williams had an exceptional floor game, but the difference might have been Fair. He seemed to hit critical shots at the most opportune times. Also, if I could nominate the defense, I would. The Orange zone was suffocating again.

What's next: Syracuse is heading to its fourth Final Four under Boeheim and first since it won the title in 2003. The Orange flirted early in the season with this type of run but then hit a rough patch in the heart of the Big East season. Syracuse ended up losing seven games in the Big East. But save for one poor half against Louisville in the Big East tournament title game, the Orange have been one of the most dominant teams in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse hasn't had to sweat a last possession in any of its four tournament games thus far.

Video: Syracuse-Marquette preview

March, 30, 2013
3/30/13
3:12
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Bruce Pearl previews Saturday's Elite Eight matchup between Syracuse and Marquette.

East Region: Syracuse, Marquette match up

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
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WASHINGTON -- Syracuse and Marquette fit the personality and style of their coaches.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim craves a defense that is long, athletic and flusters the opponent, as if he's looking at the zone like he was given seconds to figure out a Rubik's Cube.

He's got that with the Orange.

Marquette coach Buzz Williams needs players who won't mind sacrificing their bodies during practice and games and will play every possession as if they are competing for their scholarships.

They do.

Every year, there are teams that take on the personality of the coach or the style that they have been ordered to play.

Read more from Andy Katz.

Saturday's Elite Eight: Stat-based analysis

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
8:23
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As you get ready for the Elite Eight to begin, here's a stat-based look at what's working well for each of the teams playing in Saturday’s Regional Finals.

West Region Final: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Wichita State

A Key To Ohio State's Success

Deshaun Thomas is going to get his -- the Buckeyes' leading scorer has accounted for 28 percent of their points this season. However, in Ohio State's last two games (both three-point wins) Thomas had help carrying the scoring load.

In the first 34 games of the season, LaQuinton Ross was averaging less than 8 points per game. But in the last two, Ross has had 17 points in each game -- including the game-winning three against Arizona. Ross has made five of seven 3-pointers, and the Buckeyes -- who shot less than 35 percent behind the arc during the season -- are shooting 50 percent on threes (23-46) during the tournament. Wichita State has held its three tournament opponents to under 28 percent on three-pointers.

A Key To Wichita State's Success

In the Sweet 16, Wichita State outscored La Salle 40-26 in the paint. The Shockers took 43 shots in the paint, the most such attempts for a team in this year’s tournament. The Shockers’ 43 shots in the paint were 11 more than they had in their previous two games combined. The Shockers are shooting 57.3 percent inside the paint and must continue to shoot well on the interior for two reasons:

1. It’s an area they can take advantage of against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are allowing opponents to shoot 58.7 percent in the paint, the highest among Sweet 16 teams.

2. Outside the paint, the Shockers are shooting just 34.1 percent, which ranks 13th among Sweet 16 teams.

East Region Final: No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 4 Syracuse

A Key To Syracuse's Success

In eight games this season, the Orange have held opponents to shooting 20 percent or less behind the 3-point line -- and three of those games have come in the NCAA tournament. Montana, Cal and Indiana were a combined 11 for 67 behind the arc. When those three teams stepped inside the arc, they combined to shoot 42.2 percent.

Before Thursday's loss, the Hoosiers were making more than half of their two-point field goal attempts, but against Syracuse they shot just 39.3 percent (13-33) inside the arc. However, one reason Marquette beat Syracuse earlier this season (aside from outscoring the Orange 29-5 at the free throw line) was that the Golden Eagles shot 57.7 percent on two-point field goals (15-26). In all other games this season, Syracuse's opponents shot less than 43 percent on two-point field goals.

A Key To Marquette's Success

If late in the game the score is close, Buzz Williams' team has shown that it will continue to play with poise. Combined in the final five minutes against Davidson and Butler, Marquette shot 9-of-15 from the floor and outscored those two 29-19.

Marquette has made just 12 3-pointers in the tournament, but four of them came in final five minutes against Davidson and Butler.
Michael Carter-WilliamsBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMichael Carter-Williams had 14 points and five assists -- but also had four turnovers -- the last time Syracuse played Marquette.
WASHINGTON -- For the Marquette Golden Eagles, there is so much more at stake than a berth in the Final Four.

The Big East brand isn't on the line, but a Marquette win will enhance it more than any television deal or agreement to play games at Madison Square Garden. The new Big East has had Final Four representatives in the past from the likes of Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence and Butler.

But none of those matter as much right now as this Marquette team. The Golden Eagles are the last ones standing and can send a strong message to the rest of Division I that a strong basketball-centric league can survive on its own.

"It would be an enormous validation for what we believe to be our purpose in college athletics,'' Marquette athletic director Larry Williams said Friday. "We are a group of 10 schools that focus on the development of student athletes that primarily focus on men's basketball. This is an opportunity to be in the Final Four this year and we want to do it in future years. It would be a validation of our charge."

Syracuse is off to the ACC. If Marquette were to beat the Orange Saturday at the Verizon Center, it would be a signal that this league is more than viable. The new Big East, with its television partner at Fox, can pump this up.

"An already top league would climb even higher,'' Butler athletic director Barry Collier said Friday.

For the 10 that are venturing out -- especially the seven that split from the old Big East -- it would soothe any fears.

"It's a validation that we believe shows we took the right course of action,'' Williams said. "It affirms those that may have had any questions. They can say they're doing it the right way.''

Williams said he has received a number of friendly text messages from his fellow athletic directors in the new conference, particularly pleased with the potential to add NCAA tournament units. When asked if those units would stay with the new Big East or the old, Williams declined to answer.

The game will be played on the home court of another member of the new Big East -- Georgetown. The Verizon Center, like the majority of the other members' home courts, is a big-time pro environment, providing another reason why this looks like a legitimate plan.

"Obviously there is risk here by charting our own future,'' Williams said. "But we feel some sense of responsibility for it.''

Marquette coach Buzz Williams (no relation to Larry) and the team aren't feeling any added pressure to perform based on the new league. But to Larry Williams, this will be an affirmation of basketball belonging at the adult table.

"This is an important element,'' said Larry Williams of reaching a Final Four.

The Marquette brand would benefit greatly from a Final Four appearance. So too would Buzz Williams, much like Tom Crean did when he took Marquette in 2003. But the biggest beneficiary will be the new Big East, which can claim it is here to play with everyone else on equal footing -- even without football.

WHO TO WATCH

Michael Carter-Williams. Syracuse's lead guard has become one of the toughest matchups in the NCAA tournament. He shredded Indiana with 24 points and completely controlled the game. Carter-Williams scored 14 points and added five assists but had four turnovers in the 74-71 loss at Marquette last month. He seems to be seeing the floor better and is playing with as much, if not more, confidence than at any point this season. He is a tough matchup because of his size and length, and Marquette cannot afford to let him find his range and soft spot on the floor.

WHAT TO WATCH

Second-shot opportunities. The Orange successfully created additional opportunities against Indiana. Marquette limited Miami to one shot on many occasions. The wings of Marquette, like Jamil Wilson, Trent Lockett and Vander Blue, can certainly board with the bigs like Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. But they'll need to keep the length of Jerami Grant, Baye Moussa Keita, DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas off the glass. Syracuse has a host of bigs to rotate in with their length that includes a wing like James Southerland. If the Orange continue to keep possessions alive, then Syracuse has a solid chance to advance to the Final Four.

STAT TO WATCH

The 3-point shot can be the great equalizer. Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and Southerland can bury daggers on 3s. The Golden Eagles aren't as prolific a 3-point shooting team. Marquette doesn't rely on the 3-ball to get into the Syracuse zone. The Golden Eagles would rather slice through it or pound the ball inside. But Syracuse can stretch leads with 3s and make it even more difficult to catch up against the zone. The onus will be on Marquette, more than Syracuse, to be on top of defending the 3-point line.

Podcast: Marquette's Vander Blue

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
2:15
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Marquette guard Vander Blue talks about the Golden Eagles' win against Miami in the Sweet 16, looks forward to playing Syracuse in the Elite 8, and discusses the challenges presented by facing a familiar opponent like the Orange.

Video: Syracuse's Jim Boeheim

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:24
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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim breaks down his team's 61-50 win against Indiana in the Sweet 16.

The real Marquette stands up

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
1:28
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WASHINGTON -- The Marquette locker room never got too chaotic or hectic.

There was some exuberance, chatter and prayer before the media entered the room, according to the players. But there was nothing like the euphoria exhibited on the court as soon as Marquette dispatched Miami 71-61 to advance to the Elite Eight.

The Golden Eagles, who had held their emotions in check for 40 minutes save one guttural scream from Jamil Wilson on a block, waited until the domination was complete before letting loose. The players all ran to the Verizon Center side where the Marquette fans were located and shouted with joy, as senior Junior Cadougan yelled, "We're here!"

Yes they are.

And they deserve to be as much if not more than any other Elite Eight team.

To read the rest of Andy Katz's piece on Marquette, click here.

Video: Breaking down Syracuse-Indiana

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
12:38
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Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Dick Vitale on Syracuse's stellar defense preventing Indiana from playing its style.

 
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A few thoughts from Syracuse's 61-50 win over top-seeded Indiana in an East Regional semifinal Thursday:

Overview: Indiana was the first 1-seed to be locked on the bracket, according to the NCAA tournament selection committee. But the Hoosiers didn't live up to the moment when the games mattered most.

Fourth-seeded Syracuse dominated Indiana from start to finish. You can make an argument that the Orange have been as impressive as any team in the field so far this season. While Ohio State has been thrilling at times, with last-second shots to beat Iowa State and Arizona, Syracuse has been dictating everything to its opponents.

The Orange (29-9) manhandled Montana. They survived a late surge by hometown Cal in San Jose, but controlled the entire game. And then they suddenly turned the Hoosiers soft.

Indiana, which has now lost seven consecutive NCAA tourney games to the Big East, had not looked this poor since a stretch against Ohio State at home late in the Big Ten regular season. Indiana (29-7) couldn't get anything going offensively against the zone, scoring just 22 points in the first half -- the lowest point total of any half this season for IU. Big man Cody Zeller? He played small and struggled to find his footing in the lane. The performance was so pedestrian it might force Zeller to return for his junior season.

Meanwhile, Michael Carter-Williams sliced up the Hoosiers at will, almost toying with them at the end. Brandon Triche didn't have an issue getting to the lane. The Orange were effective on the backboards and forced turnovers on a consistent basis.

Indiana was in a scoring fest in a Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky last year in Atlanta. This wasn't even close to that performance by what should have been a much more prepared team. According to ESPN Stats & Information, IU's 50 points were the fourth-fewest ever scored by a 1-seed in the shot-clock era.

Syracuse wasn't supposed to be a Final Four team. But this could end up being one of Jim Boeheim's most effective late-season teams with the way it has come together in such a succinct way. Heck of a turnaround for the Orange.

Turning point: Six minutes into the second half, Indiana cut what was once an 18-point lead down to six on a Victor Oladipo 3-pointer. But Carter-Williams responded with a bucket to push it back to eight. The Orange didn't let up and continued to be the aggressor, increasing the lead to double figures. The margin ballooned to 16 at one point (56-40) on a Triche driving layup, which he finished off virtually untouched. Indiana's defense was soft throughout the night and the Hoosiers never again seriously threatened.

Star of the game: Carter-Williams was the best player on the court throughout the game. He finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals and found seems in Indiana's defense rather easily. He ran a sensational floor game (just two turnovers), made free throws and seemed to be in the right place all the time. MCW embraced this moment and played like a mature, elite point guard.

What's next: A date with Marquette on Saturday in the Elite Eight. This will be the first time since 2009 that teams from the same league will meet with a Final Four berth on the line (Villanova-Pitt, also from the Big East). Syracuse lost to the Golden Eagles 74-71 in Milwaukee back on Feb. 25, the teams' only meeting. Both of these teams are leaving the original Big East. Syracuse is off to the ACC while Marquette is staying in the new Big East, with six other members and Butler, Xavier and Creighton. These are two confident teams meeting Saturday. Syracuse can play as strong as Marquette, especially in the post, where the Orange are a bit undervalued.

Video: Marquette's Jamil Wilson

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
11:05
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Andy Katz chats with Marquette forward Jamil Wilson, who had a game-high 16 points as the Golden Eagles advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003 by beating Miami.

WASHINGTON -- A few thoughts from Marquette's 71-61 victory over Miami in an East Regional semifinal Thursday:

Overview: Marquette had played on the edge for two rounds of the NCAA tournament, fortunate to win against Davidson and Butler.

The Golden Eagles were due to bust out with a comfortable victory. But who knew it would come against the ACC regular-season and tournament champs?

Miami had been in a few grinder games earlier this season, against Michigan State and Virginia. But the Hurricanes were not prepared for Marquette's toughness, aggressive behavior on the backboards and overall punishing ability to make shots, grab rebounds and convert.

This was over early, as No. 2-seeded Miami scored just 16 points in the first half and never seriously threatened in the second.

Third-seeded Marquette moves on to the Elite Eight for the first time since Dwyane Wade led the Tom Crean-coached Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003.

Miami finishes its best season ever at 29-7 -- but two games short of the ultimate goal. The Hurricanes tried to dismiss the importance of losing Reggie Johnson to a knee injury after Sunday's win over Illinois. Yet they could have used Johnson to help keep Marquette off the backboard, or at least contribute his five fouls.

Nevertheless, the Golden Eagles (26-8) were clearly no fluke in tying Georgetown and Louisville for the Big East regular-season crown. This team might not have had the early-season hype or star power, but once again it has shined with developed headliners like Vander Blue and Jamil Wilson and plenty of tremendous role play from Trent Lockett, Chris Otule and Junior Cadougan.

Turning point: I'm going early here. Davante Gardner spun and converted to put the Eagles up 10-4; Blue then pushed the lead to 12-4 nearly eight minutes into the first half. Miami was having a hard time getting more than one shot per possession. Blue then buried a step-back 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer for a 29-16 lead. The Canes were thoroughly clueless offensively, going 1-of-11 on 3s and 6-of-29 from the field before intermission.

Star of the game: It's a bit of a draw between Blue and Wilson. Blue made big shots and finished with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but Wilson was also a difference-maker for Marquette as he led all scorers with 16, along with eight boards. Wilson converted timely 3s and found the seams in the defense to convert around the basket. He also had three blocks late into the second half -- one of them an emphatic, message-sending delivery. Miami had the style and the flash with the neon sneakers. But substance won over any kind of fashion statement on this night. This was a good evening to be a member of the new Big East.

What's next: Marquette can stay in D.C. for the Easter weekend, can go watch the school's men's lacrosse team take on Georgetown on Friday, and enjoy what has been a wonderful ride for the unheralded but well-respected Golden Eagles. Fourth-seeded Syracuse will await Saturday.

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