Syracuse plays North Carolina in the National Semifinal on Saturday evening. In preparation for the game, columnists Matt Goodman and Jim Stechschulte break down the game and give us their opinions. Tomorrow, columnists Jeff Irvine and Steve Auger will do the same.
How do you overcome a 9-point second half deficit to Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen one night, and then two days later battle back from a 16-point hole against No. 1 seed Virginia to earn your spot in the Final Four? Fearlessness.
This Orange team has shown the world it has absolutely no fear. Its players simply aren’t afraid to fail. How else do you explain Malachi Richardson, a freshman no less, shooting 0-for-5 in the first half, then coming out to shoot 6-for-11 and score 21 of his 23 points.
If you’ve played ball, you know how big of a role confidence and momentum play in a game. The fact that Syracuse had to go against the grain in both of it’s come-from-behind victories in the NCAA Tournament and completely flip the flow of the game, outlines just how good this team really is. What happened in both of those game just doesn’t happen. Especially in the Virginia game. Having nothing to lose AND knowing you are never out of it, makes you dangerous.
It is why North Carolina should be very, very nervous. Coach Jim Boeheim even alluded to the fact that they played UNC closely in the last meeting, only losing by 5. Considering the Orange hadn’t beaten Virginia since joining the ACC, no team is unbeatable now in the minds of the players and coaches.
We know Syracuse won’t quit. No matter how large of a lead the Tar Heels might open up, they’ll know Syracuse will never be down for the count. I think that forces UNC to tighten up, struggle to play the game they want, and will leave just enough of an opening for the Orange to sneak into the championship game.
I’m picking Syracuse because they’ve proven everybody else wrong so far, why stop now?
After Sunday night’s comeback win over Virginia, I have no idea what Syracuse will do in the Final Four. But, that victory pretty much proved anything can happen, so any opinion is viable.
If you think the Orange get bounced Saturday, you can point to two losses to North Carolina this season, the Tar Heels’ time atop the polls this season, UNC winning each NCAA Tournament game by at least 14 points, their high-powered offense and great rebounding, and so on. If you think SU wins Saturday, but falls in the title game because Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield is too good or Villanova is too familiar with the 2-3 zone, those are viable reasons.
But, if you want to believe in Syracuse’s chances, you can point out that Michael Gbinije shot 1-of-12 from three in those losses to UNC, but he’s a 40 percent shooter from deep on the year, so he’s due to bounce back against them.
After repeatedly toasting ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon in the comeback win over Virginia, Malachi Richardson’s confidence has to be peaking.
Trevor Cooney is shooting 10-of-21 from three in his last five games, evolving into a much more effective offensive player with his shot selection under control.
In the NCAA Tournament, Tyler Roberson is playing his best, most consistent basketball at Syracuse and competed well against Carolina in both games (22 points, 18 rebounds combined).
Tyler Lydon has evolved into a very effective player at both ends of the floor of late, reaching double digits in scoring in 11 of the last 15 games and blocking 17 shots in the last three contests.
The reasons are all there to believe the Orange can win. To borrow from new football coach Dino Babers at his introductory press conference, “Why not Syracuse?”