Tag Archives: NCAA Tournament

Sweet Like Bear Meat!

…To quote Tracy Morgan.

Yes, Syracuse is back in the Sweet 16 after defeating Arizona State today. I don’t have time for a full recap of today’s game, but I wanted to look at the three keys to victory that I mentioned earlier on ASU blog House of Sparky. The Orange hit on all three today in their win:

1. Get Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson involved early.

This was obviously something that Coach Boeheim stressed to his players before the game, because the Orange had an inside presence from the beginning. The two big men combined for 10 of the first 20 Orange points, and both finished with double-digit scoring efforts. This was a key to getting open looks for Devendorf and Rautins against the ASU match-up zone.

2. Knock down some threes.

No problems with the outside shot today. Devendorf had five triples and Rautins added three threes of his own. 9-20 (45%) effort from long distance today, compared to the 2-16 showing in the first round. If the Orange shoot like they are capable of from outside, they can be a challenge to any team in the country.

3. Score, score, score!

I wrote that the Orange are 18-3 on the year when the reach the 80 point mark, and only 9-6 when they don’t. Well, they only got to 78, but against a team that was only giving up 60 points per game, 78 is a huge number. The Orange kept the pace where they like it and weren’t bogged down by ASU’s zone. Great offensive day for Syracuse.

Cory from House of Sparky was right on with his assessment on how to beat the Sun Devils. Pendergraph was forced out of the game with about ten minutes left (why did Herb Sendek leave him in there?) which eliminated any inside presence ASU had. While we did allow Kuksiks and Abbott to get open looks we kept the defensive pressure on ASU the eintire game, and limited the damage of James Harden. We also did a great job working inside-out on their zone.

All told, it was a very solid performance by the Cuse hoopsters. Next up is Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners.

How To Lose/How To Win Against ASU

After reading Sean’s great interview with House of Sparky over at Nunes, I contacted Cory from H.O.S. and asked him how Syracuse can beat Arizona State, and how ASU can defeat the Orange. His responses are below. I provided the Syracuse versions to this question on his site as well. Enjoy.

Three Ways ASU Can Beat Syracuse

Arizona State plays a 2-3 matchup zone that tries to limit interior scoring at the expense of leaving a fair amount of threes open for the opposition. Against a Syracuse team that shoots 34.3% from beyond the arc, this is a tricky proposition.

1. Extend the zone, forcing Arinze Onuaku to make plays.

With Jeff Pendergraph playing solid defense in the paint, Onuaku will be hard-pressed to shoot 66% from the field, like he has been doing all year long. Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf are far too dangerous to leave open from downtown, so the extended zone will look to force the ball inside.

2. Stay out of foul trouble, Jeff Pendergraph.

Leading us to our next point. Without Pendergraph in the game, our defense takes on a different dimension, with backup center Eric Boateng down low. He’s not very good. He has very little control of his body once he gets some positive momentum, and is prone to hard fouls. Boateng is not a scorer, either, limiting our options on the offensive end.

Let me make this very clear: without the impassioned play of Jeff Pendergraph for at least 35 minutes tomorrow, Arizona State is in huge trouble. Pendergraph takes pressure off of James Harden on the offensive end, and is a force on defense.

3. Revive James Harden’s ailing game.

Harden hasn’t looked like himself since the Pac-10 Semifinal matchup against Washington. Against USC in the Pac-10 title game and Temple on Friday, Harden was focused on finding the open man instead of looking for his own shot. Are defenders catching on to his subtle nuances and shutting him down? I certainly hope not.

When he’s on, Harden has the ability to singlehandedly beat any team in America. He lacks motivation at times, but there will be no shortage of enthuasism tomorrow morning. With a fiery player like Eric Devendorf on the court, Harden will undoubtedly step up his game.

Three Ways To Beat Arizona State

1. Get Pendergraph out of the Game

ASU can be beat when you play with the right mindset. The first step is getting Jeff Pendergraph into foul trouble, as I mentioned before. We are paper thin in terms of size. With Pendergraph on the bench, the zone can be attacked by Onuaku and the strong drives of Jonny Flynn.

2. Keep the defensive pressure on/allow no open looks

Once this objective is complete, Harden now feels the increased pressure of scoring the lion’s share of points for ASU. Give him no room to make anything happen. Force Jerren Shipp and Jamelle McMillan to shoot when they are in the game.

Pressure Derek Glasser in the backcourt, as he is prone to turnovers when the full court press is on. Defensive intensity will help you. Be careful not to give Rihards Kuksiks, Derek Glasser, or Ty Abbott open looks from three, as they will make you pay.

3. Work inside out on offense

Finally, break the zone from the inside. After the matchup zone sags to protect the basket, Devendorf, Flynn and Rautins will be able to find an open shot from outside the arc. From a percentage standpoint, playing Syracuse is a logistical nightmare for Arizona State. From three or from the paint, the high field goal percentage plays into the hands of the Orange.

Thanks to Cory for the insight. Check his blog later more great post-game analysis.

Getting to Know the Sun Devils

As Syracuse gets ready to take on Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, I exchanged in some Q&A with Justin from the excellent ASU blog, Pitchfork Nation. His answers are below, and my answers to his questions are here. Enjoy.

James Harden is being touted as a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft. Can you break down his game for us?

James Harden is certainly a unique talent; something that fans in Tempe have never seen before and may never see again, so we’re definitely savoring every minute of The Super Soph/The Beard (as we call him on PFN) until he most likely takes off for the draft after this season.

The best way to describe Harden is “complete” but with just a little bit of immaturity still in his game. James uses a mixture of speed and dexterity to extend defenses. He’s deceptively fast and can go from zero to “by you” before you can blink, making him very dangerous in the transition game. For an example of how well he moves off defensive rebounds, take a look at the game film from the ASU/Washington Pac-10 Semifinal. When you let him get loose, he becomes a deadly slasher and gets to the tin in no time. The one drawback of that is, and it goes back to some of his immaturity, he tends to get a little bit out of control and is prone to taking offensive fouls when he gets overexcited. He did it with less than a minute to play against USC, a play that most likely cost Arizona State a conference championship.

Pac-10 POY James Harden will try to get the Sun Devils past Syracuse in the second round on Sunday.

Pac-10 POY James Harden will try to get the Sun Devils past Syracuse in the second round on Sunday.

Harden can also be a very deadly shooter. His range is about 19-20 feet. However, as you probably noticed against Temple, he tends to be hesitant to shoot in the early stages of games when his first few attempts don’t fall. It’s something that shocks the hell out of every announcer and journalist that doesn’t follow ASU regularly, but we all know not to worry. Harden is smart enough to know that forcing shots isn’t going to help his team, so whenever he can, he’ll force the ball down low to Jeff Pendergraph or act as a decoy to open up guys like Derek Glasser and Ty Abbott.

You twice beat UCLA and had a win over Washington in the Pac-10 tournament. How did the rest of the Pac-10 slate go? Did ASU exceed or fail to meet expectations?

It was a very, very strange Pac-10 season for ASU. It went from incredible to frustrating to incredible to incredibly frustrating on a week to week basis almost. The Devils started off with a frustratingly regular 3-2 record after five games, then went to USC and got run up and down the floor by DeMar DeRozan. That game was the only one in Harden’s career thus far in which he was held without a field goal. It would have been panic button time in Tempe had it not been for an unreal defensive performance (1 FG allowed in the final 13+ minutes) that allowed ASU to get their first win at UCLA in six seasons.

The next week, ASU went down to Tucson and took an unprecedented 2nd straight win over Tucson in a game where the first team to 40 literally won. It really looked like we were on the right track until the Washington schools came to Tempe and shot the lights out. The losses to UW and WSU really exposed Herb Sendek’s matchup zone and provided a blueprint to how to beat ASU: hit your outside shots and play in-your-face defense. They rebounded with two nice wins on the road at the Oregon schools and then came home to sweep the most pivotal three-game stretch for the program in 20 seasons: three straight wins over UCLA, USC and Arizona at home sent the Devils to the top of the standings.

Then came a stretch of basketball that would crush a weak minded team: back to back overtime losses in Washington and at Washington State and then a miserable shooting performance at home against lowly Stanford sent the Devils spiraling. Luckily, a strong Senior Day win over Cal paced the Sun Devils into their run to the Pac-10 title game.

Harden struggled in the first round against Temple, but Pendergraph and Glasser stepped it up. How important is it for Harden to pick up the pace, or can the other players carry the team on his off nights?

It’s not the biggest concern, but as the Tournament wears on, they’ll definitely need him because Derek Glasser isn’t going to score 22 again like he did today. Harden is surrounded by a tremendous supporting cast of Pendergraph, Glasser, Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks, all who can put the ball in the hole with the best of them. As I mentioned earlier, Harden knows to adjust his own game when he’s not hitting from the outside, and it’s up to those four to pick up the slack. However, the Sun Devils have not played a team this season as rangey and athletic as Syracuse, so as if this wasn’t already going to be a true test, it’s going to be even more difficult for Arizona State to win if Harden doesn’t score.

Who are the “wild-card” players that Syracuse should look out for?

If Ty Abbott hits his first shot of the game, look out. Abbott is one of the most schizo shooters in America…he either hits everything or nothing at all. Earlier this year, he went on about an 0-35 shooting slump during the early stages of the Pac-10 season. Then, inexplicably, he almost couldn’t miss in the conference tournament. I feel like Abbott, against that stingy Jim Boeheim zone, will be a key cog for Arizona State if they want to pull the minor upset.

SFA- 1st Round Analysis

Syracuse defeats Stephen F. Austin 59-44 to advance to the second round. This wasn’t the greatest of efforts from Syracuse, but they were able to get by with their better size and skill. Here is some analysis and some interesting facts from this game:

Syracuse finished with 21 turnovers against SFA, who forced an average of 15 turnovers on the season. Syracuse was sloppy with the ball all game, something Jim Boeheim is sure to point out to his players. This was the seventh time the Orange had 20+ turnovers in a game this season. Amazingly, the Orange are 6-1 in those games (the loss at Providence being the only blemish).

Jonny Flynn had 7 turnovers, matching his season high (low?) in that department. Similarly to the team turnover note above, Syracuse has won all three of those games (home vs. Rutgers, UConn in B.E.T. and SFA today).

Paul Harris was a monster on the boards today, getting 16 rebounds. It was his 11th double-digit rebound game of the year, and was second only to his 22 rebound effort against UConn in the B.E.T. (in that game he only had 8 rebounds in regulation). His defensive rebound rate (a measure of how effective a player is at rebounding) was 25.1%, which means he grabbed a quarter of all of Syracuse’s defensive rebounds today. That would rank him 17th in the country if he had done that over the course of a season (his season percentage is 17.9%- 308th in the country).

Syracuse was great in the first half, shooting 62.5% of their shots. The second half was atrocious by comparison, as the Orange shot only 32.3%. Their effective FG% was 47.3% (down from 64.6% in the first half) compared to their season eFG% of 54.4.

Syracuse had their worst game of the season in terms of outside shooting, hitting only 2 of 16 (12.5%) from three. Their previous low was 3-14 (21.4%) vs. West Virginia in February. I don’t know if it was trying to shoot in a new arena or if they still didn’t have their legs after the B.E.T., but they will have to shoot better from behind the arc if they want to advance any further.

Syracuse was able to get inside on the smaller Lumberjacks:

FG-FGA Points
In Paint 18-33 36
Mid Range 5-6 10
Three Pointer 2-16 6
Free Throws 7-10 7

The biggest threat from SFA today was supposed to come from their back-to-back Southland Conference Players of the Year, Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley. The Syracuse zone worked well against SFA today, but was especially effective against the big two:

FG FG % PTS
Alexander 4-20 20.0 8
Kingsley 1-8 12.5 2
Rest of team 13-45 28.9 34

As usual Nunes has post game links up (including a great “Dexter” shot) and Chuck has some thoughts on the game as well.

A Closer Look At SFA

Jeff from CollegeHoops.net’s blog March Madness All Season was kind enough to answer some questions about today’s opponent, Stephen F. Austin:

SFA features the last two conference P.O.Y. in Jeff Alexander and Matt Kingsley. Break down their games, and how do they match up against Syracuse’s predominantly 2-3 zone?

Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley are a dynamite frontcourt duo, but the two have completely different games. Alexander is an outstanding three-point shooter who can really stretch a defense despite plenty of defensive attention. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder even though he is just 6-4. He is also the team’s Jonny Flynn in terms of minutes, averaging more than 34 minutes per game and playing at least 40 minutes on nine separate occasions. Kingsley, a 6-9 force down low, is a very efficient finisher in the paint who can score and rebound with the best of them. He was the Southland Conference Player of the Year this season, as he dominated inside while Alexander received the majority of the opposition’s attention on the perimeter. Against the 2-3, Alexander is going to have to knock down his threes — and he is going to have to hit them consistently. Kingsley has the size and skill-set to perform well down low, but Onuaku’s athleticism could give him problems.

Everything from their stats indicates they play a tough man-to-man defense. What is your take on how they play d?

The Lumberjacks are an outstanding defensive team, one of the the best in the country. Despite their slow pace of play, they rank near the top of the nation in defensive efficiency and also rank third in effective field goal percentage defense. They guard the perimeter extraordinarily well and then corral the misses at a high rate. SFA has allowed more than 70 points twice this season, both in victories (including their triple-overtime win against North Dakota State). Even if you look at the BCS conference opponents they played — Texas Tech, Arkansas, Texas A&M — they only gave up an average of fewer than 64 points per game.

Can Syracuse be successful shooting the three against SFA, who is 2nd in the nation in opponents 3-pt pct?

With the style that Stephen F. Austin plays at — a slow, grind-it-out pace played mostly in the half-court — Syracuse is going to have to hit its threes. Devendorf and Rautins are going to have to make the most of their open looks, because they aren’t going to come that often. They shouldn’t expect too many transition shots, as SFA rarely turns the ball over. Therefore, Devendorf and Rautins are going to have to be active without the ball, moving around to open spots on the perimeter. If they get open, Flynn will be able to find them, as he will likely be guarded by the 5-3 Eric Bell, who has quick hands but is obviously small in stature. Additionally, having a height advantage on the perimeter could be key on the wings, too. Girod Adams is just 5-10, while Devendorf and Rautins run 6-4 and 6-5, respectively. The Orange will be able to get open looks at the basket due to their height — they just have to knock them down, because they might not get an abundance of second-chance opportunities.

SFA won the Southland Conference regular season and tourney. Exactly how tough is this conference? Are we talking the next Missouri Valley (multiple bid teams, big tourney upsets)?

The Southland has been underrated over the past two seasons, but I don’t anticipate it becoming the next Missouri Valley. Stephen F. Austin had a decent resume last year and owned a win over Oklahoma, but they weren’t deserving of an at-large bid. Basically, there’s not enough good teams on a consistent, year-to-year basis to anticipate multiple bids in a given year.

I see you had Flynn/Devendorf/Harris as the Orange trio in your top 10. Any thoughts on Harris’ erratic play of late? He seems to be struggling and keeps getting pulled by Boeheim.

I didn’t even realize how poorly Harris was playing lately. If you take away his mammoth effort against Connecticut in the six-overtime classic (29 points and 22 rebounds), he is averaging six points and about 4.8 rebounds over his past four games. Furthermore, he has had 10 single-digit scoring efforts in his last 16 games, as compared to just three in his first 18 games. It seems that Syracuse has been operating well offensively without him in the game, as Rautins comes in and provides another shooter on the wing. With the way he has been stroking the ball, it is tough to keep him out of the game. However, Harris could be a real key against Stephen F. Austin. He has the athleticism to give Alexander problems on the wing, and is a very difficult match-up for the Lumberjacks defensively.

What is your prediction for this game?

I think that Stephen F. Austin is a very solid team, and one that could give Syracuse a scare early in the game. The Lumberjacks will slow the game down and not allow many open looks for Syracuse, especially from the perimeter. Plus, they are not going to back down, as this is a very experienced group that has faced several major-conference teams over the past couple of seasons. However, I think that Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense and athleticism will be the difference. SFA was last in the Southland in three-point shooting, and Alexander is really their only consistent perimeter threat. They just don’t have enough guns on the wings to shoot over the zone. Additionally, the Orange’s frontcourt athleticism will give SFA problems on the boards and inside with Kingsley. Syracuse will pull away in the end in what will very likely be a low-scoring affair. I’ll take Syracuse by 12, 66-54.

Thanks, Jeff for some more insight into the Lumberjacks. As for me, I think Syracuse will be able to get some open looks and the zone will keep Kingsley in check.

Syracuse 71 – SFA 58

Come back at halftime and after the game for some analysis and a breakdown of the game.

The Fatigue Factor

Most Syracuse fans are concerned about what playing 4 (really, 5 games) in the Big East tourney is going to do for our hopes in the NCAA tourney. We all remember what happened in 2006 and would like to avoid the same fate. I was relieved when Syracuse was given a Friday first round game to get an extra day’s worth or rest.

But as John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus points out, that 2006 team was a much different case than this year’s squad:

I think Syracuse might have lost because, as a five-seed, they were almost certainly the most over-seeded team of the tempo-free era, one that could not beat a correctly slotted 12-seed. In Big East play that season the ‘Cuse was outscored by their opponents by 0.08 points for every possession they played, a level of performance equal to what teams like Cincinnati and Iowa have achieved this year within their respective conferences.

And he is right. There is no way we were a five seed that year. As I mentioned previously, we went from being out or nearly out of the tourney to a five for winning the Big East tournament. And don’t forget, that Texas A&M team featured Acie Law and was a 3 seed the following year. And Gerry McNamara’s injury was a much bigger factor than the fatigue factor in that loss.

This year’s team is better than the 2006 team, and healthier. Kristof is healthy after his scarier-looking-than-it-actually-was fall. So Syracuse fans shouldn’t put too much thought into this year’s team facing the same hurdles as the 2006 team.

This Is Who Will Win Your Office Pool

After reading Champ’s great “Don’t Be That Guy” post over at Three Idiots, I was reminded of one of the greatest sports sketches in SNL history. Relive the magic below, including a pre-Super Bowl champ Peyton Manning being told he pulled a Peyton Manning by choking with his tourney picks. Classic.

And for the record, I’ve been filling out brackets since I was about 7, and have yet to win a single dollar. Therefore feel free to ignore my selections that I will post later in the week.