As much as SU was out of sync on Thursday in their first game of the Big Dance was top seed Syracuse (33-2 ~ 17-1 in the Big East) in gear from the get go against No. 8 Kansas State (22-11 ~ 10-8 in the Big 12), as they dominated for most of the game on both sides of the ball and ended up with a 16 points win, 75 to 59, while alumn Vice President Joe Biden watched from the stands. For head coach Jim Boeheim, who has been saying that his two seniors need to step up, half of the his wish was realized as Scoop Jardine had a very good second half against the Wildcats. With the win the Orange now head to the Sweet Sixteen, something that many didn’t think they could without having seven footer Fab Melo playing, to take on Wisconsin.
“The second half, we made shots. We haven’t done that lately,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “Our offense was not good in the first half. We had to pick it up on the offensive end. Our defense was very good the first half. We got killed on the boards. … Second half, we did a much better job on the boards.”
K-State was also without one of their starters in this one as Jamar Samuels didn’t dress for eligibility concern. But this game was about Syracuse for the most part, with their floor general scoring 16 points to go with eight assists and five rebounds, but the six turnovers need to be cut down as the games get harder and harder. Kris Joseph scored 11, but still did not look like the leader he has been during the season for coach Boeheim. Off the bench James Southerland had his second good game in a row, this time scoring 15, hitting five out of six shots from the floor, to go with six rebound and three blocks, while Dion Waiters scored a game high 18 points against K-State.
As I said in my preview SU had been having a hard time breaking 70 points in the last seven games, in this one they were right on average with their 74.5 ppg. For Syracuse going to the Sweet Sixteen is nothing new having been there 17 times altogether and three times in the last four seasons, but I have to believe this one, due to both the on and off the court problems, has to be as (no pun intended) sweet as it gets for coach Boeheim and his squad. However, while there is no doubt that today’s win was an impressive one for the Orange, the fact that the opponents once again outrebounded the Orange 37 to 31 overall, and 22 to 8 on the offensive side, has to be something that is worrying the coaching staff as the team moves forward. What will be very interesting to see is how this team can improve over the week as they work more and more together knowing that their starting center won’t be on the court.
I can say without a doubt that Syracuse is not peaking right now, as they still have much they can improve on, and to be fair, some of that is due to adjusting to life without their seven footer. The good news it that it seems, with two number two seeds already gone, that this can be said for many of the squads that the so-called experts have going to New Orleans. The sole exception being Kentucky, which seems to be playing as good as possible, something they have done for most of the season. The bad news is that just like the Orange, the other squads will have a chance to re-energize over the week and try to get everyone ready for the second weekend of the tournament. In my mind the four teams that will end up in the Final Four are the ones that get in gear the quickest when the third and fourth round get underway, and I do not see why one of those can not be SU.