College Basketball Nation: James Southerland

Offense plagues Orange in loss

April, 7, 2013
4/07/13
2:08
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ATLANTA -- It’s a moment, Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said, that might haunt him: looking for teammate James Southerland with 19.2 seconds left in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament, finding him covered, opting to drive to the basket for a potentially game-tying layup instead ...

Only to be called for an offensive foul.

"That’s a moment you dream about -- those final seconds, the ball in your hands, trying to make the best play for your team," he said after Syracuse lost to Michigan 61-56 on Saturday. " ... We just needed another bucket."

That pretty much summed up Syracuse’s night.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Triche, Jordan Morgan
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThis play, on which Brandon Triche was called for a charge against Jordan Morgan, "could have gone either way," Triche said.
For all the pregame talk of the Orange’s ferocious, suffocating, octopus-like 2-3 zone defense -- and whether Michigan could slice through and shoot over it -- it was Syracuse’s offense that failed it in the end.

Although forward C.J. Fair scored a game-high 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting, teammates Southerland (2-for-9) and Michael Carter-Williams (1-for-6), usually double-digit scorers, combined for seven points and made only 3 of their 15 shots.

"They started out strong, and we never really got anything going," Southerland said.

Syracuse shot 41.8 percent for the game -- including 3-for-14 on 3-pointers.

"I think they’re a good defensive team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the Wolverines. "We have shot the ball well from 3 this year. We’re shooting about 20 percent from 3, in our nine losses. It hasn’t been something that we’ve been really good on. We try not to take a lot of 3s. But we had good looks. I mean, they were all good looks."

Southerland, who didn’t score his first field goal until the final two minutes of the game (on a dunk that cut Michigan’s lead to four), had a very good look with 41 seconds left, when he buried a 3 to cut a once-11-point deficit to 57-56.

But after Michigan’s Trey Burke made only one of two free throws, Jordan Morgan stepped in front of Triche to draw the charge, which Triche said "could have gone either way."

"I probably should have made a better decision," he said. "Probably should have pulled up ... for a jump shot instead of actually taking it all the way down there, because I did see him."

Although who’s to say, in this game, that a jumper would have gone in for Syracuse, either?

"It was tough because offensively, we never could get anything going," Triche said. "We couldn’t get multiple made shots in a row. We’d make one, and we probably didn’t make another shot for two minutes or something.

"We didn’t have much momentum offensively. Defensively, we started to pick it up, chip away, and that’s what we did -- we chipped away all the way to the last second of the game."

After the charge call, Jon Horford hit one of two free throws to push the Wolverines up by three. But with nine seconds left -- and with a chance to tie it -- Syracuse reserve Trevor Cooney took and missed a bad 2-point shot that ultimately resulted in a dunk for Morgan and Michigan on the other end.

In a game that saw Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone hold the Wolverines to 33.3 percent shooting in the second half, it was a frustrating way to finish the game. And the season.

And the dream of winning a national title.

"Final Four, down two points, the opportunity to tie the game or take the lead -- but get a charge," said Triche, a senior. "That’s what I’ll probably remember the most."

 
ATLANTA -- Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA title game in two decades. And Saturday, it didn’t allow a 2-3 zone -- no matter how lengthy or athletic or frustrating -- to keep it from returning.

Led by Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III -- and helped by the fact that Syracuse’s James Southerland and Michael Carter-Williams, who average double digits, combined for only seven points -- the Wolverines survived a last-minute push from their fellow fourth seed to win 61-56 in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament and advance.

A quick look at the game:

Turning point: Trailing 17-15 with 10:14 left in the first half, Michigan outscored Syracuse 21-8 before halftime, shooting over Syracuse’s defense (including two 3-pointers from freshman Spike Albrecht and a loooong one from Trey Burke) when it wasn’t beating it down the floor. The Wolverines led 36-25 at halftime -- and 43-32 with 15:08 left, before the Orange painstakingly patched together a 13-5 comeback that cut their deficit to 48-45 with 7:41 left.

But it didn’t get interesting again until the final minutes, when Southerland -- scoreless to that point -- dunked with 1:58 remaining to cut his team’s deficit to four and then hit a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to cut it to 57-56.

Michigan’s Burke and Jon Horford bookended a Brandon Triche offensive foul with a free throw apiece. And after Trevor Cooney missed for Syracuse (30-10), Jordan Morgan sealed it with a breakaway dunk for Michigan.

Key player: McGary finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high six assists.

Key stat: Southerland and Carter-Williams -- who had been averaging 10 and 13 points, respectively, during the NCAA tournament -- were a combined 3-for-15 from the field.

Up next: Michigan (31-7) advances to play top-seeded Louisville in Monday night’s championship game. The Wolverines last reached the title game in 1993 (although that season record was vacated because of NCAA sanctions).

ATLANTA -- On Friday, reporters surrounded James Southerland in Syracuse’s locker room as they sought sound bites and quotes for the flood of pre-Final Four coverage from the Georgia Dome.

Ten years after the program’s most recent national championship run, Syracuse returns to the Final Four with a team that many questioned throughout the regular season. For weeks, Syracuse climbed the rankings until many deemed the Orange one of America’s best. As a top-10 program in The Associated Press poll, Jim Boeheim’s squad was quickly becoming king in the Big East.

Syracuse’s surge is certainly tied to the effectiveness of a suffocating 2-3 zone.

But two months ago, Southerland (13.5 PPG, 40.3 percent from beyond the arc) and his teammates faced uncertainty that began when the senior was ruled academically ineligible in January.

“We were sad,” said Rakeem Christmas.

“It was definitely frustrating but at the same time, I felt it definitely messed up some chemistry,” Southerland said during pregame interviews on Friday. “Also, being a senior, leading your team, it’s kind of hard to be a leader for them when they’re playing away games and you’re stuck at home. But we all picked it up. We got our groove back.”

The void killed the vibe of an Orange team that had the makings of a contender. And the uncertainly impeded its burgeoning mojo.

[+] EnlargeJames Southerland
Nate Shron/Getty ImagesIt took a while for Syracuse to find its rhythm after James Southerland returned to the lineup.
It was a familiar position for Syracuse.

Three years ago, Arinze Onuaku injured his quadriceps before the start of the 2010 NCAA tournament. Last year, Fab Melo missed time during the season with academic issues before he was ultimately ruled ineligible for the Big Dance. Players worried that Southerland’s situation would force a similar scenario this year.

But Syracuse, which will face Michigan on Saturday, is not a one-dimensional team. It proved as much when it knocked off then-No. 1 Louisville without Southerland. But doubts about the Orange’s postseason potential changed when the team lost back-to-back games to Villanova and Pitt. Southerland’s squad went 8-for-28 from the 3-point line in those matchups. It just wasn’t the same team without him.

“One of the different things I noticed is that other teams were pinching in. It was kind of hard not being out there because I wasn’t out there to spread the floor,” Southerland said.

The Orange defense was incomplete without the senior. And Michael Carter-Williams (21-for-67 from the field in the six games that Southerland missed) forced shots in his attempt to compensate for the loss.

The Orange were unraveling and Southerland could only watch as he awaited an appeal and a chance to return to the floor.

He eventually won that appeal in early February and returned in time to compete in a Feb. 10 victory over St. John’s. But he only excelled in spurts. He shot 40 percent or better in the first two games that followed his suspension. It was clear, however, that some rust remained when he struggled during a 1-4 stretch that began in late February.

“It took us some time to adjust,” said Brandon Triche. “It probably took him six games to get back.”

Southerland has regained his old form, though. He’s 19-for-39 from the field in the NCAA tournament and 7-for-19 from the 3-point line. The 6-foot-8 forward will be a legitimate threat against the Wolverines because his range helps Syracuse create matchups problems for opponents. And his size gives Syracuse another big athlete with an enormous wing span, qualities that help Syracuse stall offenses.

He’s also the leader that Syracuse has called upon in tough times this year. Once the team learned of his suspension, it sulked as it prepared for its next game. But that was the reaction Southerland told players they had to avoid.

“He told me don’t worry about it, go out and have fun and do what need to do,” Christmas said.

That’s been much easier since he’s returned.

Notes:

Handling the zone: Saturday’s game between Michigan and Syracuse features one major question: How can Michigan crack Syracuse’s 2-3 zone? It hasn’t been done in weeks.

The Orange held Marquette to 12 field goals and defeated Indiana by double digits in its last two games.

But Syracuse recognizes the threats that Michigan presents with its versatility and Trey Burke's leadership.

“They have great shooters, and we can’t let them get hot,” said Carter-Williams. “If they get hot, then they hurt us and we’ve just got to keep getting out on the shooters, contest and not give them open shots.”

Added Christmas: “I think [the 2-3 zone] will do fine. We have played good 3-point shooting teams so we have to just stick together, stick to the game plan and do all the things we’ve been doing all year in practice and in games. Like I said, we are a long team, we’re very athletic and we rotate fast. A lot of people that haven’t played our zone get puzzled when they play against us.”

Burke vs. MCW: The most critical matchup of the night will be Burke versus Carter-Williams, although both team's defensive schemes suggest multiple players will have those responsibilities.

But Carter-Williams said he’ll use his size to his advantage against Burke.

“I can try to take him to the basket and get on the block a little bit,” he said. “I am a lot taller than he is.”

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.
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.

 
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It's one thing to play good defense. That's when opposing players have low field goal percentages. Syracuse does that, without a doubt. It ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage defense this season.

But what if you need that extra push over the cliff and decide to turn your defense up to 11? That's when, say, the Pac-12 Player of the Year can't even get a shot off, much less make one.

And that's what the Orange did Saturday in their 66-60 victory over California in the NCAA tournament round of 32 at HP Pavilion. Bears guard Allen Crabbe entered the tournament averaging 18.7 points. He'd scored 20 or more points in 15 games this season.

Against Syracuse, he took his sixth shot of the game with five minutes left. At that point, he was 1-for-6 from the field. He finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.

"They keyed in on me," Crabbe said. "The shots that I thought I would probably get weren't there. And they took things away from me. You've just got to give credit to them. They're long and athletic, so I tried to shoot over them a couple of times. They were there, contested it. I was in the air passing the ball, deferring for my shots. You've got to give them credit, they play really well in that zone."

[+] EnlargeAllen Crabbe, Rakeem Christmas
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesRakeem Christmas and the Syracuse zone took Cal star Allen Crabbe out of the game for a huge stretch.
Ah, Syracuse's notorious 2-3 zone. Love it, hate it, but it's the signature of one of the nation's most consistent programs. Coach Jim Boeheim's players are running it as well as they have in the 1,037 years -- give or take 1,000 -- the crotchety one has been at Syracuse ("crotchety" being the term Cal coach Mike Montgomery used to describe his good friend).

"I thought our defense was really good tonight, the whole game," Boeheim said. "I just thought we played tremendously on the defensive end."

Fourth-seeded Syracuse (28-9) will play the winner of Indiana's game Sunday against Temple in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Cal averaged 67.5 points per game this season, but the Orange defense is not just about scoring. It's about frustrating. Making a team uncomfortable. Cal seemed uncomfortable most of the night. Crabbe's No. 2, guard Justin Cobbs, scored just five points on 2-for-9 shooting and had as many turnovers -- four -- as assists.

Cal shot 39.3 percent from the field. It was 4-of-21 from 3-point range (19 percent). The Orange grabbed 1o steals.

"We had a difficult time solving the zone," Montgomery said. "They did a great job of getting to Crabbe, for example, and locating him in the thing and they had us pretty well spread out. Credit to Jim Boeheim. That zone is effective. It's good. It's tough. I'm sure everybody in the Big East will tell you the same thing. It's something you've got to play with for 40 minutes. They're not changing. They have a lot of confidence in it and we didn't come out and attack it very intelligently. And obviously if you go 4-for-21 from 3 against the zone, you're probably going to have some problems."

Cal, the region's No. 12 seed, was forced to go away from Crabbe and Cobbs, who combined to score 1,059 of the Bears' 2,094 points entering the tournament; Richard Solomon led all scorers with 22 points while Tyrone Wallace added 12.

But that's not Cal.

"They moved the ball well, as well as anybody. They really did," Boeheim said. "We just were reacting really, really well. We really had great defensive movement. Our defense was as good as you could ask it to be for a long time tonight. I mean, they weren't getting shots, you know."

Crabbe had five turnovers, most coming when he tried to pass as the Orange converged on him. And even when Cal (21-12) got good looks, those looks didn't last long.

"So by trying to throw it to David [Kravish] and Richard and at the high post, they were having to catch, face, make a decision there," Montgomery said. "And we got some really nice shots off. We had some where we actually got the ball exactly where we wanted it, but we got it blocked. And their size came in and took those away from us. That's discouraging."

As for offense, Syracuse was a bit sloppy at times, but it was aggressive and got the job done. With 18 points, C.J. Fair led four players in double figures. James Southerland scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. He added two assists and four steals.

Syracuse scored 20 points off turnovers, compared to 13 from California. The Orange also had 18 second-chance points, compared to 12 from Cal. Both those numbers add up to meaningful totals when you consider the final score.

So how far can that defense carry Syracuse?

Said Fair, "We can go all the way -- our whole goal is to get to Atlanta."
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Syracuse ended 12th-seeded California's hopes for another upset, 66-60, with suffocating defense in a methodical effort Saturday.

Overview: Cal jumped ahead 2-0, but that was it. The fourth-seeded Orange rolled up an early lead and maintained it throughout, with the Bears getting no closer than six points in the second half.

Turning point: The turning point was a time span: From 11:22 of the first half until 2:12 of the second, Cal's leading scorer Allen Crabbe didn't score a point. Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaged 18.7 points per game this season. He finished Saturday with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Key player: Syracuse senior forward James Southerland scored 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. He added two assists and four steals.

Key stat: Cal took more shots. The field goal percentages were virtually identical. The rebounding numbers were close to a push. Both teams made the same number of 3-pointers, though Cal needed 21 attempts to make four versus 10 for Syracuse. But the Orange had 18 second-chance points to 12 from Cal (21-12). Note that number and look at the score.

Next: Syracuse (28-9) will play the winner of Indiana's game Sunday against Temple in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
We’ve had a few hours to analyze the bracket. So many tough calls to make. No need to waste time, though. Here are a few bold predictions for the 2013 installment of the NCAA tournament.

  1. Kansas will not reach Atlanta -- The Jayhawks are certainly a No. 1 seed. I’m not sure they’re the second overall No. 1 after Louisville, but they’ve earned that slot. Their path to Atlanta is not that imposing. But I have bad news for Kansas fans: Don’t book those trips for the Final Four because the Jayhawks will not be there. I have the Jayhawks losing to a Georgetown team that will wear them down in the Elite Eight. But they could fall earlier to either VCU or Michigan. Florida might be the most complete team in the South Region, and they could give Kansas a fight, too. KU is hot right now. But at some point in the Big Dance, the Jayhawks will need their star, Ben McLemore, to shine in a big moment. And I’m not sure the redshirt freshman is ready for that. The bottom line is that KU’s NCAA tourney experience will end prior to the festivities in the Peach State.
  2. Big Ten national title drought will continue -- To date, the Big Ten has won the “best conference in America” argument. That league was a gauntlet in the regular season. Proof? Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan State are all in the field. That’s seven of 12 teams. The volume, however, puts more pressure on the league’s participants to win their first national title since 2000. Won’t happen. I think three or four Big Ten squads in the field could make a run to the Final Four. Indiana will probably be listed as the national champion in many brackets. The Hoosiers are certainly capable of that, but Louisville is so strong right now. Georgetown, Miami, Duke and Kansas are, too. The Atlantic 10’s best are also tough. The Big Ten’s physicality will prove beneficial when its members face squads from leagues that don’t play that rugged style. But they’re also going to encounter teams with more athleticism, speed and star power, too. The drought will continue.
  3. [+] EnlargeMarshall Henderson
    Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss' Marshall Henderson is a charismatic guard who isn't afraid to show his emotions.
    Marshall Henderson's performance won’t match his mouth -- In the days leading up to Ole Miss’ opening-round matchup against Wisconsin, Rebels star Henderson will be the subject of TV packages, front-page stories and web columns. He’s going to be who he is, and that’s great for the media. I can’t wait for the quotes and sound bites. Wisconsin will say little because that's just not the Badgers’ style. Their “style” involves quieting critics and silencing playmakers. They’re not only equipped to beat Ole Miss, they’ll pressure Henderson (20.0 PPG) into one of the worst performances of his career. Henderson's theatrics will be the story as the matchup approaches, but don’t believe the hype. That talk won’t lead to much action against the Badgers.
  4. Middle Tennessee will prove that it’s the best team in Tennessee, reach Sweet 16 -- The Blue Raiders remind me of the VCU team that made a run to the Final Four in 2011. Their inclusion in the field of 68 has been questioned by some, mostly because of their conference (Sun Belt) and lack of big wins. But they’ll be prepared for March Madness because they played one of the toughest nonconference slates in America (sixth in nonconference SOS, per Daily RPI on ESPN.com). The Blue Raiders are a veteran group that crashes the glass (30th in offensive rebounding rate, per Ken Pomeroy) and defends for 40 minutes (21st in adjusted defensive efficiency). I think MTSU will beat Saint Mary’s in the First Four to set up a meeting with Memphis in the next round. Vandy and Tennessee missed the tournament and I think Belmont has a tough draw in Salt Lake City. So bragging rights will be on the line when the Tigers and Blue Raiders meet. And with wins over Saint Mary’s, Memphis and the Michigan State/Valpo winner in the round of 32, the Blue Raiders will not only prove that they belong, they’ll also earn “best in the state of Tennessee” honors and a trip to the Sweet 16.
  5. Bill Self versus Roy Williams won’t happen -- The second-round matchup possibility between North Carolina and Kansas is intriguing. Williams against his former team. Again. I’m sure TV execs are salivating over the possibility. But I think Villanova will spoil those blue-blood plans with a round of 64 win over the Tar Heels. The Wildcats have defeated better teams within the past month (Georgetown, Marquette). Plus, they have a 6-foot-7, 260-pound bruiser named JayVaughn Pinkston who could be a problem for North Carolina’s small (quick) lineup. It’s a great storyline, Williams versus Self, given the history. Too bad we won’t see it.
  6. The Pac-12 will go 0-5 in the first (second) round -- Immediately after the 68 teams were announced, the Twitterverse was filled with chatter about the Pac-12’s seeding. Oregon’s slot as a 12-seed, despite its second-place finish in the Pac-12 and a tourney title, was the most puzzling placement. The league can prove its worth with a strong showing in the NCAA tournament. But I think it’ll do the opposite and struggle throughout its brief stay in March Madness. I could see the Pac-12 losing its five first-round matchups. Yep. Sounds crazy, I know. But Minnesota has the athleticism and strength inside to upset UCLA. I don’t think Oregon is better than Oklahoma State. I think Anthony Bennett will lead UNLV to a win over Cal, even though the game will be played in San Jose. Illinois will get hot and torch Colorado. And Belmont is a tough mid-major that won’t be intimidated in its upset over Arizona. That’s an 0-5 tally for that league.
  7. [+] EnlargeTrey Burke
    Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsJohn Beilein, guard Trey Burke and the rest of the Wolverines will have their hands full in the South.
    Michigan won’t reach the Sweet 16 -- What a daunting path for the Wolverines. They open the NCAA tournament with a matchup against a dangerous South Dakota State squad that’s led by NBA prospect Nate Wolters. And then they have to go against a VCU team (assuming the Rams beat Akron) that forces turnovers on 28.7 percent of its opponents’ possessions (first in the nation, per Pomeroy). That’s a rough path for the Wolverines. Trey Burke is a very talented athlete. And he’s surrounded by young standouts. But that Michigan defense has been a concern all season. It’s going to be magnified as the Wolverines struggle in the opening weekend.
  8. Florida Gulf Coast will push Georgetown to the brink of an upset -- I’m not saying the Eagles will win the game. Save the emails. But they’ll come close. I think the Eagles have the talent, including guard Sherwood Brown, to contend with the Hoyas in the first round. They’ve played some of the top teams in the country, so they won’t be concerned with Georgetown’s seeding or the NBA scouts tracking Otto Porter Jr. They have a win over Miami, too. Again, the Eagles won’t win. Georgetown, however, should be very concerned about this game.
  9. Indiana will win every game, prior to the Final Four, by double digits -- I think the Hoosiers are a Final Four team. I also think they deserved the second No. 1 seed. But they were rewarded with a favorable path, in my opinion, to the national championship. Miami, Syracuse and Marquette could be their toughest tests in the East Region. But I think the Hoosiers will have few problems with their opposition. They’re talented enough to beat every team in the East Region by double digits. The Final Four will not be as easy, but I think Indiana will breeze through its region on its way to Atlanta.
  10. We’ll see multiple 40-point performances in the opening rounds -- We have so many players who are capable of just “going off” in the first two rounds. Doug McDermott, Wolters, James Southerland, Porter, Shane Larkin, Ryan Kelly, McLemore and more. Usually, the game slows down in the NCAA tournament because possessions are so precious. So teams are more cautious. But there’s so much parity that star power could be the separator in the early matchups. Get your popcorn ready. I think we’ll see multiple 40-point individual performances in the first weekend.
NEW YORK -- When the final horn sounded -- when the comeback was complete, when the championship was secured -- Russ Smith made a beeline for the TV camera, wagging his right index finger in front of his face.

New Yorkers like the spotlight, and Smith is no exception.

The spotlight couldn't have been brighter at Madison Square Garden this week, particularly Saturday night, as we all said goodbye to the Big East conference as we know it.

It was only fitting that two New York City kids were among the brightest stars on the stage.

Smith had scored a combined 48 points in Louisville’s quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Villanova and Notre Dame, respectively.

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith
Chris Chambers/Getty ImagesRuss Smith scored 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting but left with a second straight tourney title.
James Southerland had poured in 53 in the three wins that landed Syracuse in the championship game.

An undersized two-guard from Brooklyn and an oversized three-man from Queens, Smith and Southerland figured to play prominent roles in the tournament finale.

And they did.

Southerland struck first -- and made history in the process. The 6-foot-8 senior with the smooth stroke from the perimeter drained his first 3-point attempt of the game, less than three minutes in, giving Syracuse an early 6-0 lead.

It was Southerland’s 17th 3-ball of the week, breaking the record held by former Syracuse guard and current assistant coach Gerry McNamara, as well as former Connecticut guard Albert Mouring.

Southerland hit another one from deep before halftime, and his third triple of the game gave Syracuse its largest lead, 45-29, with 15:51 remaining. He appeared to be on his way to garnering tournament MVP honors.

Seventeen seconds later, he headed to the bench with his fourth foul, and everything changed.

Smith, on the other hand, was practically invisible in the first half. The 6-foot dynamo shot 0-for-4 from the field, collecting just two points from the foul line. But you figured he’d find a way to get involved in the second half.

It didn’t take long. He connected on his first attempt after intermission, from beyond the arc. And when Louisville scored 10 consecutive points following Southerland’s fourth foul, Smith was involved as well, canning another trey.

The Cardinals eventually surged to the lead, thanks to their smothering full-court pressure. The Orange wilted, at both handling the ball and shooting free throws. The game, shockingly, turned into a rout in Louisville’s favor.

Smith, who finished with 10 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds, was emotional after the game. He has been playing all week in honor of former high school coach, the legendary Jack Curran, who passed away days earlier at age 82.

“It’s been just a roller-coaster ride. Especially since the loss of a guy like that, it’s had a tremendous effect on me,” Smith said. “But wining this tournament cured a lot of the sadness I had, and I’m playing in his name.”

Southerland, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds, lamented what might have been.

[+] EnlargeJames Southerland
Chris Chambers/Getty ImagesJames Southerland had 9 points and 8 rebounds but also 4 turnovers in Syracuse's defeat.
“I just feel like we kind of made it -- we didn't make some smart plays at the end,” Southerland said. “We didn't take advantage of our lead and move the ball around like we should have.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino was thrilled for Smith, and the rest of his team.

“I’m really excited for them that they can be part of basketball history,” Pitino said. “I’m really happy that the basketball history took place at Madison Square Garden. And I’m really excited we could do it in (Big East founder) Dave Gavitt’s memory, and now Jack Curran’s for Russ Smith. It meant a lot for Russ to play well, and he certainly did.”

This was the 34th Big East tournament, and the 31st played at Madison Square Garden. There will be a Big East, and a Big East tournament, next season -- but we all know it’ll never be quite the same.

St. John’s, the city’s team, won the first Big East tourney played at the Garden, back in 1983. But the Red Storm haven’t played in the championship game since 2000, and were eliminated from this tournament on the first full day.

Someone had to step up to represent the five boroughs.

In the end, two did the job.

The 2013 Big East tournament will be remembered for the classic Syracuse-Georgetown semifinal, and the stunning Louisville comeback in the title game.

But this New Yorker, raised on Big East basketball, will also never forget James Southerland and Russ Smith.

They might not be superstars. Far greater players have played on this stage.

But they were the final act. And they did their hometown proud.

NEW YORK -- A quick look at the Syracuse's 58-55 overtime win over Georgetown in the semifinals of the Big East tournament.

What it means: It doesn't get any better than that.

Georgetown and Syracuse, the two longtime archrivals, met one last time as fellow members of the Big East conference Friday night. And after 45 thrilling minutes, Syracuse had landed the final punch.

In a game that will be talked about for years to come, played in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden, the Orange defeated the Hoyas to advance to this year's Big East championship game.

No. 19 Syracuse (26-8, 11-7), which had lost four of five games prior to tournament, has now won three games in three days, previously defeating Seton Hall and Pittsburgh. The Orange will be a higher seed in the NCAA tournament as a result. And they've gotten some revenge after losing to the Hoyas twice in the regular season -- both times by double digits.

No. 5 Georgetown (25-6, 14-4), which had won 13 of its past 14 games, will no longer contend for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance after this loss. But the Hoyas will still get a very high seed and will be a force to be reckoned with.

How it happened: Georgetown drew first blood. Otto Porter Jr. scored the first bucket of the game and the Hoyas went in front by as many as five and maintained the lead for almost the entire first 12 minutes. But a James Southerland 3-pointer pulled Syracuse even, 17 apiece, with 8:04 remaining in the first half. That was the first three points of a 13-0 run, making it 27-17, as Georgetown went nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Freshman guard Trevor Cooney, who averaged 3.5 points in 11.7 minutes per game, scored 10 first-half points for the Orange, including a pair of 3s. Syracuse led 29-20 at intermission.

Georgetown gradually clawed its way back in the second half. Mikael Hopkins scored the Hoyas' first seven points, and then Markel Starks buried three 3-pointers in short order. Georgetown finally tied the game up, 49 all with 1:48 left in regulation, on a pair of Jabril Trawick free throws. Baye Keita drained both ends of a 1-and-1 to put Syracuse back in front 51-49, but then Porter also made both ends with 7 seconds left to tie the game again. Michael Carter-Williams missed a jumper at the buzzer and we moved on to overtime.

Syracuse's Brandon Triche scored the first two points of OT on a driving layup, and then Starks fouled out with 3:36 remaining -- a big blow to Georgetown. With 18 seconds left and the Orange in front 57-55, Triche was fouled. He made the first, but missed the second, giving the Hoyas another chance to tie. But after a timeout, Porter was smothered defensively and turned the ball over. With four seconds left, Fair went to the foul line, but missed both free throws. Georgetown rebounded, but Trawick's half-court heave at the buzzer was off the mark.

Star watch: Triche, Southerland and Keita each scored 13 points for Syracuse. Triche scored 11 of his 13 after halftime. Southerland drained four 3-pointers, giving him 16 for the tournament -- that ties the tourney record. Keita, who averages just 3.3 points per game and was shooting just 48.6 percent from the foul line, made all seven of his attempts from the charity stripe.

Hopkins had 15 points to lead Georgetown. Starks scored 13 and Porter added 12.

Number crunch: In a box score that reveals a very even game, two things stand out. Syracuse was a little better from beyond the arc, shooting 7-for-18 (38.9 percent); Georgetown was 4-for-18 (22.2 percent). Even more important, Syracuse was 13-for-19 from the foul line (68.4 percent). Georgetown, on the other hand, was just 11-for-20 (55 percent).

What's next: Syracuse, the No. 5 seed, will play No. 2 seed Louisville on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET. Georgetown heads home, licks its wounds and begins preparing for the Big Dance.

Video: Boeheim, Southerland on victory

March, 13, 2013
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Jim Boeheim and James Southerland talk about Syracuse's 75-63 win against Seton Hall at the Big East tournament.

Stats in the Paint: Weekend Outlook

February, 22, 2013
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Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJames Southerland (center) and No. 8 Syracuse host No. 11 Georgetown on Saturday.

Let’s get ready for the weekend on the college hardwood by highlighting a few notes and nuggets from our college hoops advanced stats research team (a group we call the "Stats in the Paint" team).

(11) Georgetown at (8) Syracuse – Saturday at 4 ET
Saturday marks the final meeting between Syracuse and Georgetown at the Carrier Dome before the Orange leave for the ACC next season. To showcase the matchup of Big East founding members, let’s look at the showdown by the numbers:

36.5 – Syracuse has scored an average of 36.5 points per game in the paint this season, the most in the Big East and the third-most by a Power Six conference school. The Orange are 17-1 when scoring at least 30 points in the paint this season and 5-3 when they don’t.

21.4 - Georgetown has allowed 21.4 points per game in the paint this season, the third-fewest in the Big East. The two teams that allow fewer than the Hoyas are Pittsburgh and Villanova and both of which defeated Syracuse earlier this season.

34.2 & 35.1 – Syracuse is holding opponents to 34.2 percent shooting in the half court this season (fourth in D-I) and Georgetown opponents are seventh in the nation at 35.1 percent in half-court sets.

112.9 – Syracuse is averaging 112.9 points per 100 possessions in games in which James Southerland has played this season, an offensive efficiency that would rank 11th in Division I. Its efficiency was 105.4 in six games without him, an average that would be tied for 92nd.

9.7 – Georgetown has allowed opponents to score just 9.7 points per game in transition this season, second-fewest in the Big East. The Hoyas will be tested Sunday as the Orange are third in the Big East with 15.4 transition points per game and have scored 18.1 points per game on the break when Southerland has played.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES SATURDAY

(16) New Mexico at (22) Colorado State – 4 ET
Key stat: Colorado State rebounds 58.9 percent of all missed shots, the highest percentage in Division I this season. In their 61-59 loss to UNLV on Wednesday, the Rams posted season lows in rebounding percentage (44.9), offensive rebounding percentage (27.0) and defensive rebounding percentage (65.6).

Arkansas at (5) Florida – 7 ET on ESPNU
Key stat: Florida allows just 84.1 points per 100 possessions this season, the second-fewest in the nation behind only Stephen F. Austin (78.4). No team from a Power Six conference has finished with a better defensive efficiency over the last 12 seasons.

Creighton at Saint Mary's – 6 ET on ESPN
Key stat: Creighton has been the most efficient half-court offense in the nation this season, scoring a D-I-best 1.01 points per play. The Bluejays are also one of just two teams that have made at least half of their shots in the half court.

Missouri at Kentucky – 9 ET on ESPN
Key stat: Kentucky averages 37.3 points in the paint per game this season, the most in the SEC and second-most among Power Six conference teams. The Wildcats average 42.1 paint points per game at home and 30.7 per game away from Rupp Arena.

Video: Syracuse 77, St. John's 58

February, 10, 2013
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James Southerland scored 13 points in Syracuse's 77-58 win over St. John's.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

February, 1, 2013
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To death and taxes, I add Marquette. The Golden Eagles are the one thing you can count on annually. A year after losing the Big East’s player of the year and league’s leading scorer (and they were two different people) Buzz Williams’ team is back again, tied atop the leaderboard with Syracuse. Despite seven consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, Marquette still somehow manages to sneak up on people.

Maybe we ought to start paying closer attention.

1. Syracuse. That the Orange lost to Villanova in overtime isn’t the biggest worry right now. Even their bad shooting isn’t a big concern. Here’s the problem: Four of Syracuse’s starters played 41 minutes or more in that game. Without James Southerland (eligibility issue) and now DaJuan Coleman (injury), the rotation is minuscule for the Orange as they head into the home stretch.

2. Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won eight of nine to quietly slide into a first-place tie with Syracuse atop the standings. For those thinking Williams needs a steady scorer, Vander Blue might be the guy -- he had 30 against South Florida. But there’s a big test for both Blue and Marquette this weekend, at Louisville.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals ended their losing streak by beating Pittsburgh despite playing without Wayne Blackshear (shoulder injury) and Kevin Ware (suspension). Here’s the catch: Louisville is averaging just 61.8 points over its past four games. As good as the Cards’ defense is, their offense has to make life a little more bearable.

4. Georgetown. Without Greg Whittington, the Hoyas don’t have much room for error. Their bench is perilously short, so short that John Thompson III had to go to a walk-on against Seton Hall. But Georgetown is winning steadily after a sloppy start, three in a row and five of its past six.

5. Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ propensity for slow starts nearly cost them dearly at Rutgers. Sean Kilpatrick bailed them out then and has continued to be a backbone, especially with Cashmere Wright still getting over a balky knee. Cincinnati has winnable games in the coming week -- at Seton Hall and Providence -- but can ill afford to back into things again.

6. Notre Dame. The great tinkerer, Mike Brey, retooled his team practically overnight, debuting a bigger, tougher and stronger version of the Irish against red-hot Villanova. It worked. The Irish not only won, but got contributions from previously untapped resources such as senior Tom Knight and freshmen Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste.

7. St. John’s. The Red Storm could catapult up these rankings in a week. St. John’s has won five in a row, showing a streak of consistency few in this league can match. The catch? The Red Storm have feasted on the bottom of the standings (with the exception of Notre Dame) to get out on that run. I want to see how St. John’s does in upcoming games against Georgetown and Connecticut.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers’ four-game win streak came to an end at Louisville, but in the loss Pitt showed it could hang with the conference elite. And now the Panthers’ reward: They get to try to do it all over again when they host Syracuse on Saturday.

9. Villanova. That the Wildcats’ week of happy mayhem ended at South Bend did little to disprove that Villanova is arguably one of the most improved teams in the league. The Cats hung with Notre Dame despite a woeful 3-point shooting night. The next challenge: beating teams they are now expected to beat, including Providence and DePaul, next on the docket.

10. Connecticut. Nothing is easy for the Huskies these days, but at least they are finding a way to gut it out, beating Providence in overtime Thursday for their second victory in a row. For once, at least, UConn got some scoring from someone other than its backcourt, with Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels hitting double figures. That needs to happen more often.

11. Seton Hall. We have now entered that portion of the rankings where you are debating among the least awful of the awful. So kudos to the Pirates, who at least have lost just two in a row, both on the road and to two decent teams in Georgetown and St. John’s. Not that the schedule gets any kinder, with a visit from Cincinnati and a trip to Pittsburgh in the coming week.

12. Providence. The Friars are oh-so-close to putting something together and oh-so-far-away from seeing the results. Providence lost to Pitt by four, to Marquette by 10 and to UConn in overtime. Can the Friars finally break through Sunday at Villanova?

13. Rutgers. If "almost" counted, the Scarlet Knights would be right there. They’ve lost four in a row, but were in the games against Notre Dame, Connecticut and Cincinnati. Alas, this is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades, and as Rutgers preps for a midweek visit from Louisville, it has won just once since Jan. 10.

14. South Florida. The Bulls’ skid is at three, but in their defense, it is against two quality teams -- Notre Dame and Marquette. But like Rutgers, USF’s quality losses don’t mean much, not when it has but one league victory to show for it.

15. DePaul. I’ve run out of ways to describe the Blue Demons’ doom and gloom, so just use the numbers: DePaul has lost five in a row and seven of its past eight.

At the Watercooler: Who's No. 1?

January, 20, 2013
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McLemore/BurkeUSA Today SportsBen McLemore's Kansas Jayhawks and Trey Burke's Michigan Wolverines have legitimate claims to be the nation's new No. 1 team.
In light of No. 1 Louisville's loss to Syracuse on Saturday, Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf discuss who should be college basketball's new No. 1 team.

Myron: Good morning, Eamonn. This isn't the norm for the Watercooler. But this hasn't been a normal week for college basketball. I mean, I watched every meaningful game on Saturday, one of the best days for our sport in a long time, and I'm still not sure what I saw. Has a bit of a "Matrix" feel for me. Did Roosevelt Jones really do that, and where can I buy that Hinkle Magic? How did Wichita State miss every shot and still beat Creighton? And can we schedule a Louisville-Syracuse rematch ... to be played this afternoon? Wow!

Eamonn: Yeah, that was a pretty incredible Saturday. Usually, if we get one of those sorts of games, we freak out. Yesterday we had one of those games going on pretty much all day. And then, of course, it ended with Butler. Crazy stuff.

Myron: It was definitely crazy. At least we're not in the same situation that we were in last weekend. I think it's easy to identify the new No. 1 this weekend, now that Louisville has fallen. It's Michigan. Or maybe it's Duke. Then again, Kansas has been on a ridiculous run. Is Arizona in the mix? And Syracuse just knocked off the top team in the country on the road. ... On second thought, we should probably figure this out. Eamonn, who's No. 1?

Eamonn: If I said, "I don't know," that probably wouldn't make for a very good Watercooler, would it?

Myron: Probably not, but I understand.

Eamonn: Well, then I guess I better start with somebody. Hey -- what about Florida? The Gators absolutely demolished Missouri on Saturday. They're No. 1 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings; they have the best defense in the country and the second-best offense; they've outscored opponents by 0.42 points per possession thus far in SEC play (for comparison, Kentucky scored 0.26 when it went 16-0 in the SEC last season). I know, with the way the AP poll works, that Florida isn't going to be No. 1 this week. But they might be the best team in the country.

Myron: I like the idea of it. The Gators stomped Missouri. Laurence Bowers wouldn't have saved the Tigers. The Gators were in Beast Mode. But, as you've mentioned, the voters won't do it because they've lost twice. That's why I think the polls are too systematic. Should be the best team. That's why I'm going with Michigan, the No. 1 offense per Ken Pomeroy. A team that's guided by the best player in America: Trey Burke. A squad that bounced back from a road loss to a ranked Ohio State team by outplaying a top-10 Minnesota team on the road. If I had to pick, I'd go with the Wolverines. And cue the collective anger of Kansas fans around the world in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

Eamonn: Yeah. Kansas fans will not be pleased. And the good news for them is that there's a good chance they'll be No. 1 in the polls on Monday. They are, after all, the team that has lost least recently, and that counts for a lot when we're talking about poll position.

Which is not to say the Jayhawks don't have a real case, because they do. After all, save for the Michigan State game in Atlanta earlier this season (which was close anyway), they've handled everyone they've crossed paths with. Ben McLemore is an absolute stud, and Jeff Withey is arguably the defensive player of the year thus far. And while Texas is down this season, they really defend -- that was not an easy win on the road for the Jayhawks, but it was impressive to see them pull it out.

Myron: And that's the challenge. A handful of teams have strong arguments for No. 1. Kansas is definitely one of those squads.

I think it will be interesting to see what the voters do with Syracuse. Without James Southerland, the Orange went on the road and beat the No. 1 team in America. It wasn't pretty, but Jim Boeheim's squad did what it had to do. Syracuse certainly looked like a No. 1 candidate against Louisville. That defense down the stretch? The Cardinals were rattled on their home floor and committed costly turnovers in the final minute. Syracuse did that. But was that enough to sway voters?

Eamonn: I think anytime you beat No. 1 in its own building (and you have the record to warrant such consideration, obviously), you have to be right at the top of the list. Those games aren't easy to win, and Syracuse made a series of really heady plays down the stretch to seal the victory. Brandon Triche was a beast in the first half, and Michael Carter-Williams figured things out late. His steal and dunk was the play of the game until Butler did what Butler does.

But if I had to guess, I would guess voters will be unfairly unimpressed with Syracuse's "résumé." I think that would be a mistake, because we're not ranking résumés. But I've heard arguments that Duke should be No. 1 again based on the strength of its schedule. I find these arguments deeply confusing.

Myron: Yeah, it's a messy situation. I understand the SOS argument for Duke. But this isn't a complete Duke team. I can't give the Blue Devils that slot with Ryan Kelly sidelined. They weren't the same squad in last weekend's loss at NC State. I think that has to be taken into account. But what does Arizona have to do to get back into the conversation? Wins over San Diego State, Colorado, Miami and Florida. One road loss to an Oregon team that's better than most realized a few weeks ago. Do the Wildcats deserve the No. 1 slot?

Eamonn: I mean, you can make the same argument for any of these one-loss teams. On the strength of its résumé, sure, Arizona could be No. 1. I happen to think Arizona's just a shade more vulnerable than some of these other top teams, but you can't really knock its record like that. The problem is that I think you almost have to elect Kansas, Syracuse or (especially) Michigan first.

Let's be honest: It should be the Wolverines.

Myron: I think you're right. I'm going with Michigan.

Wait ... can I have 24 hours to decide?

Eamonn: I'll allow it.

Myron: Thanks, man.

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