College Basketball Nation: Marquette Golden Eagles
If you're not this kind of person, you might be in the dark. Let's catch you up. Essentially, SportVU is a camera system developed by STATS LLC that uses high-speed, wide-angle camera lenses to track everything that happens on a basketball court several times a second. The data possibilities are endless; for the first time ever, teams can track, record and analyze everything a player does while he's on the court.
Watching all of this happen from a college perspective has been somewhat disorienting. College hoops has its fair share of wonks, a bustling advanced analytics community powered by the work of ESPN's Dean Oliver, Ken Pomeroy, John Gasaway, and Synergy Sports scouting data, which you see in this space frequently. The smartest coaches in the game absorb this data and impart it on their players. But college basketball is not the NBA. The games are different and so are the market imperatives. So it wasn't unfair to ask whether college basketball would ever totally get on board. SportVU isn't cheap, and college basketball is almost impossible to standardize. The NBA has no such issue. What if the revolution ended at a price point?
Now it seems inevitable. According to Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal, the Duke Blue Devils will become the first team to employ SportVU in their arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, this season. The Blue Devils will also put the cameras to work in practices, adding a large sample of player motion and movement data to track and analyze. That is not a minor decision: Stats senior vice president Brian Kopp told the WSJ that no NBA team had done the same. But it makes sense for a college team whose data windows are limited to just 17 home games. Sample size is everything.
The Blue Devils might be the first independent purveyor of the Stats tech, and certainly the most high-profile. But they aren't the only one. Because Marquette shares the Bradley Center with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Golden Eagles will share the SportVU system for their 16 home games this season, too.
"Knowing our coach, two minutes into [Stats'] presentation, we knew it was something he'd want to pursue," said Marquette deputy athletic director Mike Broeker.
No surprise there. Few coaches in the country have so openly embraced advanced analytics as Marquette coach Buzz Williams; only Butler's Brad Stevens scouted and prepared his teams with more impressive game-to-game precision over the past five years. Now Williams will get a chance to look over the next data horizon. Who cares if it's just 16 games? If I was one of Marquette's new conference members, I would be slightly afraid.
Which is where we get back to the sport at large. Opposing coaches don't like disadvantages. They don't like having substandard facilities. They don't like when they can't charter a plane to see four recruiting targets in 10 hours. They don't like it when they can't budget for top assistants. We can go ahead and posit, then, that these coaches are not going to like it when just one or two schools in their conference are outfitted with uber-precise cameras and an operations staffer plunging into vast amounts of data that they in turn don't have access to. Even if Mike Krzyzewski never once looks at SportVU (you know Williams already has his Howard Hughes-esque screening room set up), other coaches in his conference will hate the idea that he has access to a piece of information they can't obtain. I mean, they will hate it. These are desperately competitive men. It will keep them up nights.
That's precisely the same force that got us all these glimmering, booster-funded practice facilities in the first place. You can't fall behind. You have to keep pace. Now, keeping pace means adding expensive cameras and hiring quants to analyze the number of potential hockey assists your power forward could have had were he more aware that the defense was only doubling him after his first half-pivot. And the NBA would love nothing more than for its would-be lottery picks to arrive with eight months' worth of spatial data attached. That's the other force at work here: the desire to record and measure everything. Basketball is hardly immune.
SportVU might not achieve widespread collegiate adoption right away. But is there any doubt it one day will? Already, we know eons more about what makes basketball work than at any time in the sport's history. In reality, we're just getting started. How exciting is that?
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: The new Big East contains multitudes.
In March, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on Day 3 of my Regional Road Trip, which still makes me tired every time I think about it, I ran into Bradley Kalscheur. It was the middle of the Marquette-Syracuse East Regional Final, and I was looking for interesting fans to talk to -- I wanted to take their temperature on the fresh drama that would carve out a new Big East from the old, realignment-ravaged (and renamed) American.
Kalscheur, a Milwaukee attorney, was one of the first people I noticed -- mostly because he was wearing an amazing sweatshirt. During a timeout, we got to talking, and I asked him for his thoughts on the new league. I assumed he would be sad. I assumed wrong.
"[Founder] Dave Gavitt would smile on the new league," Kalscheur said. "It isn't going away. It's carrying on with the original intent."
In 2013-14, we get to officially test that theory.
To me, that's the most interesting thing about the new 2013-14 Big East. Yes, there are loads of individual storylines. There's Creighton making the leap from the Missouri Valley. There's Creighton star Doug McDermott — who has a chance to become the first three-time All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale — testing his limits every single night. There's Butler, which was a Horizon League member just two seasons ago. There's its new coach, Brandon Miller, replacing the new head coach of the Boston Celtics, charged with turning all the success and goodwill of his predecessor's tenure into a lasting spot among college basketball's elite.
There's Xavier, recovering from the rare "down" year, hoping guard Semaj Christon blossoms into a star. There's Georgetown without Otto Porter (and Greg Whittington) and St. John's still-talented-and-still-frustrating group and Jay Wright pushing Villanova back into the light and the impressive ongoing success Buzz Williams is having at Marquette. There are many more, too; this post can't be 3,000 words.
But the biggest -- certainly the unifying -- story is what all of those disparate parts create in unison. What is the Big East, exactly? It's nothing like a mid-major, obviously. Is it a power league? Can you even have a "power" league without football? Has the landscape simply changed too much? In a year's time, how will we regard the first season of the new Big East?
When the "Catholic 7" staged its insurrection, walked away with the Big East name, and snapped up Butler, Creighton and Xavier, college basketball fans roundly applauded, and why not? We agree with Kalscheur: This is what the Big East should be. But Dave Gavitt's Big East was created in a different time. Is the great-basketball, no-football model still viable anymore? Can you really thread that needle? What if, in a year, all of these questions are silly?
That's precisely the point. We're about to find out.
Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Orlando, Fla.), Purdue (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis)
Next toughest: Princeton (Nov. 16)
The rest: Lamar (Nov. 9), Vanderbilt (Nov. 19), at Ball State (Nov. 23), North Dakota (Dec. 7), Manchester (Dec. 9), at Evansville (Dec. 21), NJIT (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This isn’t an overwhelming schedule for first-year coach Brandon Miller, but it’s not a complete cakewalk either -- especially since Roosevelt Jones is out for the year. The Old Spice Classic gives the Bulldogs some pop, with a potential date with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in the second round (with Washington State as the opener) or Memphis down the road.
Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec.1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
Next toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Nov. 16), California (Nov. 22), at Long Beach State (Dec. 3), Nebraska (Dec. 8)
The rest: Alcorn State (Nov. 8), UMKC (Nov. 11), Tulsa (Nov. 23), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The hefty Wooden Legacy gives the Bluejays a challenge. There’s a first-round date with Arizona State and Jahii Carson then possibly San Diego State and a potential matchup with either Marquette or Miami on the other side. But for a loaded lineup like Creighton has, I would have hoped to see a little more meat in the nonconference schedule.
Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.), Arizona State (Dec. 6)
Next toughest: at Northwestern (Dec. 27)
The rest: Grambling State (Nov. 9), Southern Miss (Nov. 13), Wright State (Nov. 16), at Milwaukee (Nov. 19), Oregon State (Dec. 1), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 12), Chicago State (Dec. 15), Houston Baptist (Dec. 18), at Illinois State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- If this is the year the Blue Demons turn the corner, they will have earned their stripes. This is a decent schedule, thanks largely to an opening date with Final Four participant Wichita State in the semis of the CBE Classic. (Texas and BYU are on the other side.) Tussles with Arizona State and Northwestern also add some muscle.
Toughest: Oregon (Nov. 8 in Seoul, South Korea), at Kansas (Dec. 21), Michigan State (Feb. 1 in New York)
Next toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24)
The rest: Wright State (Nov. 13), Lipscomb (Nov. 30), High Point (Dec. 5), Colgate (Dec. 7), Elon (Dec. 17), Florida International (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Short of matching up with Kentucky in Kabul, I’m not sure how John Thompson III could have made his schedule much more daunting. From South Korea to Lawrence, with a date with Michigan State for added fun, that’s literally anyone anywhere. There’s also a pretty decent Puerto Rico Tip-Off field, with VCU, Michigan, Kansas State and Florida State.
Toughest: Ohio State (Nov. 16), New Mexico (Nov. 21), at Wisconsin (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 25), Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
The rest: Southern (Nov. 8), Grambling State (Nov. 12), New Hampshire (Nov. 21), IUPUI (Dec. 14), Ball State (Dec. 17), Samford (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Love when a good team plays a good schedule. Buzz Williams has a delicious mix, traipsing across leagues (Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West) and mixing in a decent tourney as well. The only oddity is that the Wooden Legacy title game might merely be a Big East preview, with Creighton and Marquette seemingly headed toward each other.
Toughest: Kentucky (Dec. 1 in Brooklyn)
Next toughest: Boston College (Nov. 8), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands), UMass (Dec. 28)
The rest: Brown (Nov. 13), Marist (Nov. 16), Vermont (Nov. 18), Fairfield (Nov. 29), at Rhode Island (Dec. 5), Yale (Dec. 17), Maine (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 4 -- Yes, Kentucky is on the schedule, which is big, but one game does not a schedule make. The Paradise Jam is a bunch of meh, with Maryland and La Salle the only intriguing opponents available. The rest of the Friars’ schedule is just a trip through New England.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23 in New York)
Next toughest: at Rutgers (Dec. 8)
The rest: Niagara (Nov. 9), Kent State (Nov. 13), at Mercer (Nov. 16), Monmouth (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 1), LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 5), NJIT (Dec. 10), St. Peter’s (Dec. 14), Eastern Washington (Dec. 22), Lafayette (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 2 -- If the Pirates beat Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer, they might face Michigan State. Or they might not. And that’s about all there is to like about this schedule.
Toughest: Wisconsin (Nov. 8 in Sioux Falls, S.D.), Syracuse (Dec. 15)
Next toughest: Bucknell (Nov. 19), Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30 in Brooklyn)
The rest: Wagner (Nov. 15), Monmouth (Nov. 22), Longwood (Nov. 26), Fordham (Dec. 7), San Francisco (Dec. 18), Youngstown State (Dec. 21), Columbia (Dec. 28), Dartmouth (Jan. 18)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 6 -- The Red Storm’s top two games are pretty good, and bonus points for playing the Badgers in Sioux Falls. After Penn State in Brooklyn, they face a decent test from either Ole Miss or Georgia Tech. The rest isn’t much to look at.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas), at Syracuse (Dec. 28)
Next toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 7), La Salle (Dec. 15), at Temple (Feb. 1)
The rest: Lafayette (Nov. 8), Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 13), Towson (Nov. 17), Delaware (Nov. 22), Penn (Dec. 4), Rider (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- To understand this ranking, you have to understand the Big Five. Even when the Philly schools are down, the games are brutal, and with La Salle, Penn and St. Joe’s on the uptick, the city series is a beast. Now mix in a Battle 4 Atlantis that opens with USC and then likely Kansas (with Tennessee, Iowa or Xavier as likely third opponents) plus a visit to the Carrier Dome and you have a solid slate for Jay Wright’s crew.
Toughest: Tennessee (Nov. 12), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas), Cincinnati (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: Alabama (Dec. 21)
The rest: Gardner-Webb (Nov. 8), Morehead State (Nov. 18), Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 20), Abilene Christian (Nov. 25), Bowling Green (Dec. 7), Evansville (Dec. 10), Wake Forest (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Like Villanova, the Musketeers get a nice boost from playing in Atlantis, taking on a good Iowa team in the opening round. An on-the-rise Tennessee offers bonus points (and they could face the Vols for a second time in the Bahamas), as does the annual Crosstown Classic with the Bearcats.
Tournament bracket for the Wooden Legacy.
When and where: Nov. 28-29 at Titan Gym in Fullerton, Calif.; Dec. 1 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Initial thoughts: What used to be the 76 Classic and the Anaheim Classic has produced a field the Wizard would approve of. This field crisscrosses the country for teams, mixes in high-profile name brands with others on the rise and features a player that Wooden would certainly adore -- Creighton’s Doug McDermott. The interesting part about the field? No one is a given. The top draw teams -- Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami -- all have holes to fill, some more than others, but all have the potential to become very good by season’s end.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Marquette-Miami, a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 matchup. Let’s be honest. A lot of people want to know if the Hurricanes of last season were merely a flash in the pan or if Jim Larranaga has something brewing in South Florida. This would be a good gauge. Unlike Miami, Marquette has plenty of talent back and is adding more to the fold in the form of JaJuan Johnson. Plus, when was the last time it was smart to count out the Golden Eagles?
Five players to watch
Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is the single best walk-on in college basketball, accepting that role after Gibbs was granted an extra year. Already a two-time All-American, he gave the sport a boost when he opted to return for his senior year. Now we all get to enjoy it.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: He may be the best player many people haven’t heard of. The Pac-12 co-freshman of the year, Carson is a dynamic point guard who can score and dish with equal efficiency. A good showing would be like an overdue debut for the Sun Devil.
Davante Gardner, Marquette: The Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year was rock solid last season but will be expected to do even more this year now that Vander Blue is gone. He’s more than capable, as he’s proved in the past.
Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Now that Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are gone, it’s Thames’ turn. He played much of last season with a bad back and still managed to be an adept floor manager. But the challenge is greater without Franklin and Tapley to feed.
Maurice Creek, George Washington: The hard-luck senior spent the better part of his Indiana career rehabbing various injuries. For his final run, he decided to go close to home, transferring to GW, where -- since he already graduated -- he can play immediately. Once a red-hot recruit, if he can finally stay healthy and realize his potential, it could be big for the Colonials.
Title-game prediction: Creighton over Marquette.
This could be a preview of the first new Big East title game. Either the Bluejays, with McDermott back in the fold, or the Golden Eagles, hot off their Elite Eight run, ought to be favored to win the conference.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Marquette over Creighton
Jeff Goodman: Creighton over Marquette
Andy Katz: Creighton over Marquette
Jason King: Marquette over Creighton
Myron Medcalf: Marquette over Creighton
Myron Medcalf's pick: Creighton
In recent years, Doug McDermott has been judged by his pro potential or lack thereof. Whether he’s capable of accruing buckets in the NBA with the same ease he has had as an elite scorer on the collegiate level is unknown at this point. But his return to the Creighton program for his senior season -- before he enters the 2014 NBA draft and we find out -- means the Bluejays will enter the new Big East as a legit contender for the crown.
Actually, they should be the favorites. Last season, McDermott (23.2 PPG, 49 percent from beyond the arc) led an offense that was ranked ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. And the Bluejays finished 59th in adjusted defensive efficiency, a dramatic improvement from their porous D in 2011-12 (178th).
The loss of big man Gregory Echenique hurts. But the return of Grant Gibbs -- made possible when the NCAA granted the veteran a sixth year and McDermott agreed to give up his scholarship -- should help Creighton continue its recent trend of success in a new league.
It won’t be easy, though. Butler has a new coach, but multiple key players from last season’s NCAA tourney team will return. Georgetown’s Greg Whittington recently suffered a torn ACL, so the Hoyas are a question mark for 2013-14 unless he returns. But they still bring back three starters from last season’s squad, and former UCLA center Josh Smith will join the team after the first semester. And St. John’s has a lot of young talent, too.
Marquette appears to be Creighton’s biggest threat for the inaugural crown of the new Big East. But the Golden Eagles have to replace Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett. Davante Gardner returns, and Buzz Williams has a strong recruiting class. So Marquette will be tough, too.
But Creighton has continuity and one of America’s top offensive units. Plus, it's led by a preseason national player of the year candidate (favorite?). So I’m going with the Jays.
Jason King's pick: Marquette
The first season of the new Big East will conclude much like the final edition of the old one -- with Marquette on top. The Golden Eagles shared the 2013 regular-season title with Louisville (which is no longer in the conference) and Georgetown. But this season Buzz Williams’ squad will have the crown all to itself.
I know, I know: Marquette took a major hit when Vander Blue lost his mind and entered the NBA draft unexpectedly (and then went undrafted). But almost every other key piece of last season’s squad returns. That includes second-leading scorer Davante Gardner (11.5 PPG), glue guy Jamil Wilson (9.7 PPG) and rising junior Todd Mayo, who is due for a breakthrough season.
Marquette also adds the Class of 2013’s No. 3-ranked shooting guard in Memphis native JaJuan Johnson, who should make an immediate impact. The main reason I like MU, however, is because of its coach. I’m not sure any team in America exudes as much defensive effort as the Golden Eagles, and that is a credit to Williams. His teams apply constant pressure and are as mentally tough as any unit you will find.
Creighton has some nice parts -- most notably two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott -- and great chemistry. But I think Marquette’s athleticism and defense will be the difference-maker when the Bluejays and Golden Eagles go head-to-head. And for the record, I would have seriously considered Georgetown if forward Greg Whittington had not torn his ACL last month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.