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2014 NCAA Tournament, Western Michigan vs Syracuse: Getting To Know The Orange

With just hours before Thursday's tip-off between the Western Broncos and Syracuse Orange, we reached out to a fellow SB Nation blog to get better acquainted with the perennial powerhouse.

Buster Bronco might take the Syracuse Orange home with him instead of his banana
Buster Bronco might take the Syracuse Orange home with him instead of his banana

We here at the Belt love to give you about as many angles on a HOT SPROTS TAKE as we can. Just look at the EMU 373 thing last night. We had two articles on the poor attendance, and one on the game briefly hitting on the poor attendance. TAKES PEOPLE, TAKES!

So with tomorrow's NCAA Tournament Fir...err, I guess Second Round match-up between the 3-seed Syracuse Orange and 14-seed Western Michigan Broncos quickly approaching, we decided to pick HOT ORANGE TAKES straight from the tree itself (pun intended).

Where can you get most of these hot takes on Syracuse? Over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician of course! We've already talked about the Broncos with them over there, so hit that up as well. Interact. Ask what the hell is a Troy Nunes and why do they worship him. Become one with the enemy. Seriously, talk up the Broncos and make them crap themselves. It'll be fun. (But be subtle about it...)

NOTE: The following clip contains some brief naughty language

BASEketball (10/11) Movie CLIP - The Eric Cartman Psyche (1998) HD (via movieclips)

All kidding aside, a huge thanks to the guys over at TNIAAM for answering these questions.

Syracuse was on fire to start the year. 25-0. They are 2-5 in their last 7 games, but showed signs of struggling before the "meltdown" (i.e. Pittsburgh half-court insanity). What happened?

The offense disappeared. There's a couple theories in play as to what happened. From what I can tell, it really started when DaJuan Coleman went down with a season-ending injury back in December. Syracuse was already playing with limited depth (a Boeheim special). That put more pressure on the big men, even more so when Baye Keita got hurt and missed some games, followed by Jerami Grant getting hurt and missing games.

That's only one side of the story. The other side is quite simply that Trevor Cooney went ice cold. Since he's the only effective three-point shooter in the line-up, that limits big scoring plays. And then the trio of C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant never seemed to be able to have great games all at the same time. It was usually one of them carrying the other two for extended periods.

Someone could probably write a book about what happened to the offense this year and explain it much better than I, but the simple fact is that they just stopped making shots.

We've seen this Syracuse zone in the form of former 'Cuse assistant coach Rob Murphy, who coaches rival Eastern Michigan. We went 1-1 against his Eagles this year, and got shelled in Ypsilanti. As the originators of this apparently complicated zone, what makes it so difficult to crack?

The zone's effectiveness always comes down to the guys playing it. We've had plenty of rough seasons using the 2-3 zone. We've had amazing seasons with it. It all depends on the talent of the defenders and the commitment to the set. For SU, we've settled in to a good setup where we have a consistent shot-blocker redirecting traffic (Rakeem Christmas or Keita), two wings forcing you to take tough outside shots (Grant & Fair) and two guards forcing turnovers and trying not to allow anything in the lane (Ennis, Cooney or Michael Gbinije).

This year's zone isn't quite as good as last year's, which absolutely clamped down in the NCAAs. If that happens again this year, we might be able to live with some rough offensive outputs, at least a while.

C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant look like they're monsters down low. Which one has the better game against the 6'10" Shayne Whittington and 6'7" Connar Tava?

Honestly, I would be more concerned with Jerami Grant. I know that sounds crazy considering Fair is a 1st-Team ACC guy but, quite frankly, Grant is playing better right now. I don't remember the last time Grant got the ball, drove to the hoop and something positive didn't happen. Honestly, he knows how to create shots, draw fouls and make big plays. Fair knows how to do all of that as well, not to mention put down some solid mid-range jumpers, but he's just been so cagey lately. He'll end up with 15 points but it's an ineffective 15 points, if that makes sense.

That said, Fair is primed to put it all together now that he's in his final NCAA Tournament and he's got a pro career to start playing for. He's got all the motivation in the world to make it happen.

For those who don't follow ACC basketball, try to describe the Syracuse offense. Is it more shoot-first and bomb 3's (like the old Notre Dame mantra) or work the post and try to get an inside-out game working for the sharp-shooters in Cooley and Ennis?

Oh God, trying to describe a Jim Boeheim offense has killed many a man. This year's team seems to operate in a couple ways. Ennis controls the ball and sets the tone. He tries to find Fair or Grant and have them create shots. If that doesn't work, he finds Cooney for an open three (that Cooney then misses). Worst case, Tyler creates his own shot. And the center is just kinda there to look pretty.

Syracuse's offense is just all about creating shots and then continuing to shoot said shots. Boeheim is a firm believer that the best cure for a cold streak is to shoot until it becomes a hot streak. Remember that when Cooney misses his first couple threes.

For all his success, Jim Boeheim only has 1 National Tile (the Carmelo season) and 4 Final Four appearances. Last year, he broke a long "well they'll bow out in the Sweet 16 again" trend with the Final Four appearance, and nearly set up an All-Big East final. What do you expect from this team? Does Boeheim make a 3rd straight trip to the Elite Eight and beyond, or do they bow out in/before the Sweet 16?

Well since last year was actually the second-straight season Syracuse went to the Elite Eight, we like to think we've raised the bar a little bit. For a long time, the Orange were stuck in a kind of Sweet Sixteen-at-best rut but thanks to a recent surge in recruiting and the growth of assistant coaches like Mike Hopkins, EMU's Rob Murphy and Adrian Autry, Syracuse is starting to be a program on the level we Orange fans expect them to be on.

The NCAA Tournament is such a fickle beast. It's easy to point at Boeheim's record and say he "only" has one championship and "only" has four Final Fours (in four different decades, mind you). Meanwhile, 99% of the coaches out there have none of those things. Yes, guys like Coach K and Tom Izzo have stronger resumes. And Boeheim has his faults, for sure. But I'll put his overall record against anyone in terms of doing it with one program over such a protracted period of time.

Some of the best teams that ever played never made it to the Final Four. And teams that had no business being there made improbable runs there. It just happens. College basketball is weird and crazy and guys like Jim Boeheim suffer for it because they're seen as not having stats that measure up to other guys. But really, how many other guys have better resumes over that long of a time period?

Like I said, the NCAA Tournament is weird. Last year's SU team was probably the "worst" of the last four seasons but it's the only one to actually make it to the Final Four. So while on paper it seems like this year's team won't get much further than the Sweet Sixteen given the way they've played, nothing will really surprise me, one way or another.

Prediction time. You can't possibly have WMU pulling the upset, right? If not, what are your odds they do?

As poorly as the Orange have looked in recent weeks, there's no way I could expect them to lose in the "second" round here. Like I said, I will not be surprised at all if this is a close game that comes down to the wire. That's been Syracuse's mantra for the past couple months. The fact that the line opened at -13 was insane. I hope you guys took that money and ran.

Still, I think the Orange prevail, 58-53, and move on to hopefully avenge our NCAA loss to Ohio State from a couple years ago. Good luck to you guys.

Again, a huge thanks to the fellas over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician for this. Feel free to check them out.