Syracuse will try to stamp its ticket to the Elite 8 when it plays second-seeded Houston on Saturday at 9:55 p.m. (TV: TBS). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman gives his predictions below.
Season Record: 5-3
Syracuse fans of a certain era will immediately identify the only basketball meeting between the two schools; the classic 1982 game at the Dome in which Phi Slamma Jamma came calling on a chilly December day.
Guy Lewis’s team was an-time powerhouse with two eventual Hall of Fame players, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajawan, that would go on to lose to Cinderella North Carolina State at the buzzer in the 1983 NCAA championship game.
Against Syracuse, Drexler was the game’s leading scorer with 28 points, including a massive leaping one-handed slam dunk, symbolic of the freakish athleticism of the Cougars fraternity, but the Orangemen’s ‘triplets’ of Red Bruin (26), Leo Rautins (15) and Erich Santifer (22) combined to score 63 points as SU handed Houston one of only two losses it suffered in the regular season by a score of 92-87.
Fast forwarding to Saturday night’s meeting at cozy Hinkle Fieldhouse, it would be surprising if more than one Syracuse player finishes with 20 points or more, but it certainly will be critical for the Orange offense to spread around the wealth. Someone else (Alan Griffin, Joe Girard, the bench) needs to be on track, to help support the scoring load that Buddy Boeheim has carried in the two tournament victories.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is fully familiar with the SU zone having witnessed firsthand its handcuffing his Oklahoma team in the 2003 East Region final at Albany. Sampson will have drilled into his players at practice this week that solid ball movement to create open looks is the key to scoring, after watching his team shoot just 8-for-22 from beyond the arc in a furious comeback over Rutgers last weekend.
A week of practice also does wonders for Jim Boeheim sizing up an opponent. The Cougars lineup, more resembling one that has three big guards and two forwards, should allow Marek Dolezaj and Quincy Guerrier the freedom to pass to open teammates (Dolezaj), and/or open up the UH defense with the threat of three point shooting combined with a power inside game (Guerrier).
As we thought before the West Virginia matchup, it’s hard to pick against Boeheim’s coaching and his team feeling the momentum grow each game into the postseason. The Orange will not lead start-to-finish in this one, they’ll be plenty of lead changes until the final 10:00, but Syracuse, which opened as a six-point underdog, will find a way to hang on, and eliminate Houston by that same six point margin, 77-71, and keep its own Cinderella season alive.