After a way too close first round win against UNC-Asheville SU will be once again in action at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA. for the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The game tipping off at 12:15 p.m. EST and being televised on CBS. This time East’s region top seed Syracuse (32-2 ~ 17-1 in the Big East) will be facing off against No. 8 Kansas State (22-10 ~ 10-8 in the Big 12), who defeated Southern Miss 70 to 64 on Friday. For head coach Jim Boeheim the focus has to be on rebounding in this game, as a much smaller Bulldogs squad went head to head with the Orange in this category on Friday and the Wildcats are very good in this department. Once again No. 2 AP & ESPN/USA Today Syracuse will need to count on its two seniors, point guard Scoop Jardine and forward Kris Joseph, to lead the way.
“It’s important for all of our players to play well. It’s certainly important for our two seniors,” Boeheim said Friday referring to Joseph and Jardine. “They’ve set the tempo for the year. When they played well, we’ve had big games. It’s important for them to play well.
“It doesn’t always translate into scoring a lot, but they need to play well, they really do. Rebound, defense, make plays, you know, we need those two guys to do that.”
While coach Boeheim is correct in his coach speak, the reality is that scoring has to be a priority for this team if they want to keep moving forward and have a chance to go to the Final Four in New Orleans. Syracuse, who has averaged 74.5 points per game this season yet has only scored 70+ points twice in the last seven outings. The Orange are also shooting very poorly from beyond the arc, including Friday’s game where they went 5 for 23 overall and one for their first 13 attempts. With the absence of their big man inside, seven footer Fab Melo, who can get you many stops on the defensive side, the Orange need to pick it up on offense or they risk not making it to the Sweet Sixteen. Analysts like Dick Vitale posts that the `Cuse keeps finding ways to win close ones, I am of the opinion that in a “one and done” setting such as March Madness is playing with fire is going to get you burnt sooner or later.
The positive outlook in this game is that Kansas State is also not shooting well from the outside, and if that continues today the Orange won’t have to stretch their patented 2-3 zone and can clog up the inside making it very hard for the Wildcats to go in for offensive rebounds and easy second chance points. Syracuse also needs to create some turnovers and get their own easy baskets, creating some sort of spurt or run to get themselves a cushion. And that is something they could not do in the last game against UNC-Asheville and only did at the very end of their last game in the Big East Tournament against Cincinnati.
Once again, as I had said in the preview of the first game of the NCAA Tourney, as well as at the beginning of this post, look for the two seniors to step it up today against Kansas State, and to do a much better job then their last performance where they combined for 6 for 18 from the floor and 1 from 9 from beyond the arc. Especially for the point guard this has to be one of those bounce back games where he shows the nay sayers that all the criticisms about him are not true. While Joseph has to be the player that the team looks for to take the shot when needed most, Jardine has to be the one that gets the ball in his hands, or anyone else’s who is open for the right shot. What neither of them, along with anyone else coming on the court for SU, have to do is push the issue, or try too hard, that will just lead into bad shooting once again. Along with them I will be interested to see if C.J. Fair has a come back game, after not doing much of anything in the first round, and if James Southerland continues to play as well as he did against UNC-A.
The Vegas odds makers have Syracuse anywhere from a 4 to a 4.5 to a 5 points favorite in this one. I see the Orange winning but by less than that, with the final being 68 to 65, when once again the SU can not break the 70 points mark. But be forewarned, this game could go either way if the top seed of the region does not play a lot better than they did in their first outing, and I would not be one bit surprised if this was either a blow out by coach Boeheim’s squad, who wakes up, or a loss by them, who was still sleep walking.