Obviously, things haven’t gone Syracuse’s way late in the season, as the Orange have lost five of their last seven games. But when the NCAA Tournament begins on Thursday, every team’s record during the regular season becomes irrelevant and all that matters is winning six straight games.
Despite a rough couple of weeks, Syracuse has as good a chance as any other team of winning six games and winning the national championship, but for that to happen everything will have to fall into place perfectly for the Orange. Here are five keys factors for Syracuse if the Orange are going to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament:
5. Rakeem Christmas plays well – Christmas is one of Syracuse’s biggest x-factors in the tournament. He has the ability to make an impact on both ends of the court, and if he’s playing well the Syracuse starting five will be able to matchup against any team in the country. However, too many times this season Christmas has been a complete non-factor in games. It’s the end of his junior season and it’s time for Christmas to start playing up to his potential on a consistent basis. If he can do that during the tournament, he’ll give the Orange a big boost.
4. No injuries – This one’s obvious and applies to every team, but for Syracuse it can’t be overstated. The Orange have almost no bench, and they can’t afford any player to go down with an injury for any period of time. They were a shell of themselves when Jerami Grant missed time with a back problem, and if his back doesn’t hold up for the entire tournament, or if another player goes down with an injury, it’ll likely mean the end of the season, as the Orange just isn’t the kind of team that can survive losing one of its players to injury.
3. Defensive intensity – Last year’s Syracuse team reached the Final Four behind a stifling defense, and while this year’s team doesn’t have the size at the top of the zone to suffocate teams defensively, the Orange are capable of winning with defense if they show consistent energy and intensity on that end of the floor.
This is the time of year when Syracuse plays teams unfamiliar with its zone defense, and the Orange need to take advantage of that by making sure the zone is at the top of its game. If Syracuse can play at a high level defensively, it’ll take a lot of pressure off the offense and put the Orange in position to close out games instead of having to come from behind in games, which is something they struggle to do.
2. Trevor Cooney starts making shots – Syracuse has managed to win a lot of games this season with Cooney struggling to hit outside shots, but they’re only going to be able to go so far in the NCAA Tournament if Cooney doesn’t start to make shots at a higher rate. The team will work hard to get Cooney open looks, and when he gets them he has to hit them.
If he somehow starts shooting the ball the way he was early in the season, the Orange will become a legitimate national championship contender. If the outside shots aren’t falling, though, Cooney needs to find other ways to score points - Syracuse can’t survive without some offensive contributions from him.
1. C.J. Fair plays like an All American – The NCAA Tournament ultimately comes down to a team’s best player performing at a high level on the biggest stage, and that means as Fair goes, so do the Orange.
Syracuse won’t survive if Fair has an off night, and while he needs help from the players around him, Fair is the key figure for the Orange in this tournament. If he plays like one of the best players in the country, Syracuse has a chance to go far, but even if he has an average performance, it may not be enough to push Syracuse into the second weekend of the tournament, much less the Final Four.
Bryan Zarpentine covers Syracuse Orange football and basketball for ChatSports.com. You can follow him on twitter @BZarp and @ChatSyracuse. Also, add him to your network on Google, and keep up with Syracuse at ChatSports.com/Syracuse-Orange.Back to the Syracuse Orange Newsfeed