2016 NCAA tournament Final Four preview: Syracuse Orange
As part of its preview of the Final Four, SI.com is taking a look at each of the teams remaining in the NCAA tournament. Adjusted offense and defense statistics—which measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions—are from kenpom.com and the rankings are relative to the other teams still alive. All other advanced stats are also from kenpom.com (unless noted otherwise) and are through April 1.
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 111.1 (4th)/94.3 (3rd)
Path to the Final Four: No. 10 seed in Midwest Regional. Beat No. 7 Dayton, 70–51; beat No. 15 Middle Tennessee, 75–50; beat No. 11 Gonzaga, 63-60; beat No. 1 Virginia, 68-62.
Impact Player: Michael Gbinije, senior, guard. NCAA tournament stats: 16.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.0 apg
The Case For: The Orange are not only playing their best basketball of the season, they enter the Final Four fresh off arguably the most impressive Elite Eight victory of the tournament. Beating a No. 1 seed is one thing; Oklahoma and Villanova did that too. But what Syracuse did in overcoming a 15-point second-half deficit to Virginia, particularly with its season-saving 25-4 run late in the game, was especially eye-opening. While Gbinijie has been the team's best player all year, Syracuse is still alive in part because it has been getting huge performances from everyone else in their short rotation. Tyler Roberson has averaged 11.8 rebounds per game in the NCAAs, a big jump over the 8.0 he averaged before that. Freshman Tyler Lydon has averaged 4.5 blocked shots, up from 1.5 during the season. And Malachi Richardson, another freshman, has put up two games of 20 or more points, only one fewer than he had to date entering the tournament.
The Orange are the first No. 10 seed to make it to the Final Four, but they are also the program with the most recent visit, having been here in 2013 as well. Senior guard Trevor Cooney, who played five minutes in a national semifinal loss to Michigan that season, is the only player on the current roster who has been on this stage before (senior big man DaJuan Coleman didn't play at all that night), but Jim Boeheim's young club is growing up in a hurry and won't be intimidated by any team it sees in Houston.
The Case Against: As impressive as the Orange looked in beating the Cavaliers, it's hard not to remember that they lost earlier this season to a St. John's team that finished finished 8-24. Or that they tied for ninth in the ACC and entered the NCAA tournament having lost five out of six. Or that they had the benefit of beating a No. 15 seed and a No. 11 in the second round and Sweet 16, respectively. Consider too that Syracuse has already lost twice to North Carolina this season, and while those games were close, it's one thing to challenge a team and it's another to beat them. And while Richardson is one of the tournament's breakout stars and looked like a future star by putting his team on his back in the game-changing run late against Virginia en route to 23 points, he also combined for just 14 against the Blue Raiders and Bulldogs, and he has shot only 9-for-24 in two games against the Tar Heels this season.
Defensively, the Orange's 2-3 zone won't be much of a surprise in Houston, and it hasn't been as effective as it was during the regular season anyway (30.8% opponents' three-point percentage then, compared to 34.1% in the Big Dance). North Carolina has faced it twice this year and shredded it by getting the ball inside, and Villanova coach Jay Wright coached against it for years in the Big East and again in non-conference games in the 2013-14 and '14-15 seasons. Oklahoma is the only team that will be new to facing it, and the Sooners, at 42.8%, ranked second nationally in three-point percentage and boast newly minted national player of the year Buddy Hield. Finally, Syracuse isn't deep, playing only seven players with any regularity, so foul trouble could prove deadly to their title hopes.
SI Prediction: Lose to East Regional champion North Carolina in the Final Four.