LITTLE ROCK — Pondering the Final Four pairings, I can’t help but fast forward to Monday night and wonder about the mindset of Syracuse vs. Louisville.
Only three weeks ago in Madison Square Garden, Syracuse led Louisville by 16 with 15:50 to play and lost by 17. Being on the short end of a 27-3 run could suck the fight out of Syracuse in Atlanta, particularly if Louisville’s press is as effective as it was in the finals of the Big East Tournament.
Unless you are one of the few with a viable bracket, all you want is to see a competitive championship game. Even before Michigan took out Florida to advance to the semifinals against Syracuse, Orange guard Brandon Triche was thinking about a rematch.
“They’re going to have to get ready for our defense,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about theirs.”
An odd remark, considering Syracuse had 19 turnovers and Louisville 10, a major factor in the Cardinals’ attempting eight more shots than the Orange.
The suspicion is that Syracuse players will forget the March 16 debacle as quickly as guys squaring off in a three-on-three at a church gym or on the playground. On those occasions, one team wins big and the first thing the losers say is, “Go again.”
Before the rematch between two teams that are going to make the Atlantic Coast Conference once again the envy of college basketball, Syracuse has to deal with Michigan’s Trey Burke and Mitch McGary and others and the Cardinals must corral Wichita State, which has made 28-of-54 threes in the last three games.
There is a danger in jumping the gun in any bracket. When the WGC Match Play pairings were announced in February, Rory McIlroy was a No. 1 seed in the top half and Tiger Woods was a No. 1 in the bottom — the makings for a delicious final. Sixteen seeds Steve Lowry and Charles Howell III took out McIlroy and Woods.
Louisville should beat Wichita State, a downer for media members and headline writers who have had a field day with the short form of the nickname “Shockers.” The recipe is simple for Wichita State — don’t turn the ball over and shoot lights out from long range. Unlikely on either count.
The Orange vs. the Blue shapes up to be more competitive. With Burke — Big Ten Player of the Year — Michigan is flashier than Syracuse. The Orange won three of four tournament games by double digits, but the awful offensive performance in 66-60 over California is the most remembered. In that game, Syracuse went 12 minutes without a field goal and missed 15 free throws.
“It was about as ugly as I think it can get,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
“Ugly” is often tossed around when a victory is rooted in defense instead of splashy offense and, too often, a basketball team gets credit for playing great defense when the opponent simply misses open shots. Syracuse makes people miss.
Third in the nation in three-point shooting and scoring average, No. 1 seed Indiana made 3-of-15 threes and barely got to 50 points against Syracuse despite three days to prepare for the 2-3 zone. “We must face facts,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “We haven’t seen a zone like this.”
Few teams play strictly zone these days and Boeheim says that teams preparing for the Orange get a false sense of security because they are not practicing against the Syracuse zone.
“It’s much like when Georgetown had Patrick Ewing,” he said. “You could practice against their 2-3, 1-3-1, anything you wanted, but at the end of the day when you made your play and made your move and you went to shoot it, he blocked it.”
Like Kansas-Michigan, Syracuse-Michigan could turn on a missed free throw and a late three.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.