If you had Kansas in your bracket going to the Final Four or even winning it all (I did. Ouch.) then you are really befuddled today. If you are Coach Self, you are apoplectic and friends might want to keep you away from sharp objects… Trey Burke deserves an insane amount of credit and is from here to evermore a NCAA Tourney legend, but man oh man did Kansas yack one up last night. Trey Burke’s 35-footer to tie it with three seconds on the clock capped off an improbably ten point comeback in the last two minutes, but none of it would have been possible without two Elijah Johnson turnovers and a missed front-end of a one and one with ten seconds to go.
It was the best comeback (and most improbable) I can remember since 2005 when Illinois and Deron Williams stormed back from eleven down with little more than a minute to play to beat Arizona and advance to the Final Four.
I’m not sure today’s Regional Finals will be able to match last night’s insanity, but we should have two good games on tap. Let’s start with the first game today, a battle of Big East rivals with the first bid to Atlanta at stake.
#3 Marquette Warriors vs. #4 Syracuse Orange -5 (East Regional Final)
It isn’t the Indiana v Miami final that most brackets had projected, but it is a pretty good matchup between two teams that know each other well. Marquette, after dodging an insane opening round bullet against Davidson, courtesy of Vander Blue’s buzzer beater, has continued to gain steam in each round. They may be lucky to be alive, but there was nothing lucky about their beatdown of the Miami Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, Syracuse has been one of the two most impressive teams in the tournament, along with Louisville. The Orange absolutely smothered and took apart the Hoosiers in the last round and looks like a team that could legitimately win the entire tourney.
The key matchup tonight is in the backcourt. Michael Carter-Williams looked like the projected lottery pick many expect him to be, and Brandon Triche was the tough, steadying influence they need him to be. Marquette’s strength is also in the backcourt with Junior Cadoughan and Vander Blue. I’ll give the edge to the ‘Cuse in this game, but only slightly.
Much has been made of the fact that Marquette has seen the zone many times and won’t have as much difficulty preparing for it. I’m not sure I 100% agree with that logic. Lots of people have seen Lebron James play. It doesn’t make it “easy” to stop him. The Syracuse zone is simply the system for deploying five long, strong, physical athletes to cover the entire floor like a blanket. All the traditional “zone logic” goes out the window when looking at this team. Think of it more like the old-school UNLV amoeba defense than the pedestrian 2-3 zone you play at the YMCA when the other team has better athletes.
I like Syracuse to make it difficult for Marquette to get good clean looks all night long. Although they have shot the ball well late in games in the tournament, this is still statistically the worst outside shooting team left in the NCAA Tournament. I think that’ll catch up with them tonight. As long as Syracuse can prevent backside offensive rebounds (the one weakness of a matchup zone) like they did against Indiana, I expect them to prevail. Give me Boeheim and the Orange cutting down the nets and covering.
Free Pick: Syracuse Orange -5