Syracuse advanced to the Final Four for the first time since the 2003 season with a 55-39 win over Marquette in Washington, DC. Here are some thoughts from the game:
DEFENSE RULES, AGAIN
Syracuse hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut in the tourney. On Saturday, they shot just 38 percent from the field, and were just 5-17 from beyond the arc. But as has been the case the last two weeks, the Orange defense was incredible. Just three weeks ago, the Orange scored just 39 points on the same floor in a blowout loss to Georgetown. On Saturday, they returned the favor against Marquette, holding them to 39 points on 22 percent shooting from the field and 3-24 from downtown. Perhaps more impressive was the adjustments they made after halftime. Davante Gardner, who scored a career-high 26 points in February, shot 4-5 in the first half as the Golden Eagles cut into SU’s lead. But he was a virtual non-factor in the second half, as the Orange covered the free throw line where Gardner did most of his damage. For the tournament, Syracuse has forced 67 turnovers and allowed just 61 baskets. On Saturday, SU converted 14 turnovers into 17 points. Meanwhile, Marquette had zero points off turnovers. “We won a few games there and get better as a team and we knew we couldn’t do that without defense,” guard Brandon Triche said. “Defensively we showed that defense wins games.”
BOEHEIM DESERVES MORE CREDIT
This is one of the most impressive coaching jobs that Boeheim has had in his 37-year career. No one, and I mean no one, had Syracuse going to the Final Four three weeks ago. If you had asked Jim Boeheim that same question (and gotten a non-sarcastic response), he would’ve probably agreed with you. Yet in that time, Syracuse has been electric on defense, and has gotten enough ball movement and offense to continue to advance. The NCAA tournament isn’t about being the best team in the country—it’s about being the hottest team in the country, and I don’t think anyone wants to see Syracuse in their draw right now. “These guys have come a long ways from three weeks ago,” Boeheim said. “Today someone reminded me we were here for another game and it’s been a great transformation in that period.” Boeheim also extended his streak of making a Final Four once a decade (1987, 1996, 2003, 2013).
CARTER-WILLIAMS PLAYING HIS BEST BALL
Carter-Williams has been completely under control in the past two games. He’s had a combined 7 assists to 2 turnovers, and has had no problem finishing at the hoop. Absolutely no one can stay in front of him right now, and with the exception of one 3-pointer (which he hit) all of his shots were around the hoop. During the losing streak to end the season, MCW was settling too often for perimeter jumpers. Now, he’s rediscovered his ability to probe in the lane. He’s also been one of the reasons for Syracuse’s resurgence on defense. He’s got 9 steals in the last two games, and was an easy pick for Most Outstanding Player in the East Regional. “He’s a great example to follow,” Triche said. “The energy and things like that — he makes me play harder on defense just seeing how active us, being able to get steals and things like that, it’s contagious.”