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St. John's vs. Syracuse: 5 Questions with Orange 44

Syracuse logoOnce again, we're doing a 5 question bit with a blogger from the opposing team. For the Syracuse game, I'm going to Brian from Orange:44 for 5 questions on the #1 ranked Orange, their aggressive style, and just how dominant can they be - can they make the Final Four?

I answered some questions for Brian as well. Check out the answers. And good luck to the Orange... well, besides tonight.

1- So I hear tell that Syracuse is good or something. Ok, I believed they would be a bit better - without Devo + Flynn, they might really stick to "defense" and good coaching, but I didn't think they could be this good. What's surprised you about the Orange's performance this year?

Just how good? They are better at just about every facet of the game. The biggest improvement has been defense, but everything is better. The zone is longer with the personal that now occupy it, and they also rotate in it better and trap automatically in several situations, which causes a lot of turnovers. But the transition game is fantastic as well. This team can cause a steal at the top and get a quick outlet, or get a nice long rebound and pass it out quick as well. This team likes to run, and are simply brilliant in the transition game.

2- Obviously, as a fan for the opposing team, I want to know - how do you beat Syracuse? What are the weak links? What did Pitt do to slow the attack down?

Pitt was just a more physical, grinding type of team. They got more second chance points off offensive rebounds, and generally boxed out better than Syracuse. The key to beating Syracuse is having a legitimate shooting threat extend the zone, which makes the back line of the zone move up slightly as well. That creates a bigger gap for players to slip in on the baseline. There you can catch Syracuse napping and get some good, easy looks at the bucket from not very far away. But good luck. Syracuse’s zone hasn’t let that happen in a good while.

3- Can you give me a rundown of the depth chart? I'm looking short lines on what the players do well, where they are weak.

Brandon Triche, our starting point guard is good at penetration, but his shooting is not as good as the rest of the team, and when a good defender is on him tightly he is good for a few turnovers because he is a first year player.

Andy Rautins is pretty good at everything, so unless you have a ridiculously good defender you can’t stop him from doing everything well. You can only beat him if he beats himself by shooting poorly.

Wes Johnson can do just about everything as well, but if an equally athletic player guards him he is quick to put up a shot, rather than challenge for the space. Sometimes those shots are not good at all, but he is 100% healthy again.

Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku are not going to take any jump shots other than maybe a jump hook. They are great around the basket and Onuaku boasts the nation’s best field goal percentage. However if you double team him he has a tendency to lose the handle. He is also one of the nation’s worst free throw shooters, shooting around 44%. Jackson is pretty unstoppable no matter what you throw at him.

Kris Joseph off the bench is the nation’s best 6th man without question. The two bench players in Joseph and Scoop Jardine could start at any other program in the nation. Jardine sometimes puts up long shots when that is not his strong suit though. Joseph can do it all via mid range jumpers or driving to the hoop, both in the lane and the baseline. Good luck stopping him if he’s feeling it. If anyone else comes in we are either in serious foul trouble or up by 20.

4- Final Four team? National Champion? What are the team's chances?

The chances are very good for both. I think, as well as most of the national media, that Syracuse has locked up a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. When Syracuse is doing what they do best they are simply impossible to beat. The only team that I truly see giving Syracuse much grief if they are playing well is Kansas. I feel that Kentucky would be lost against this zone defense and Wall would be useless to attack this zone. And as we saw in the 2003 title game, Kansas (like every other Big XII team) isn’t exactly great handling the zone either.

I think the only way Syracuse is beatable is if they are too passive with their zone, or they are simply not scoring by feeding the ball inside or are settling for too many poor outside shots. Moral of the story, I haven’t booked my hotel in Indy yet, but I want to.

5- What's the scene up in Syracuse like? Is the city more Orange crazy than before? Is there newfound hype around the team and its players? Or is it the same excitement as always (since Syracuse and the papers always are heavily involved in the team)?

I would say that probably the same number of fans are there, but the intensity is way up this year. Unlike Syracuse Football, which many fans are notoriously fair weather about, the basketball fans have been fairly consistent since Jim Boeheim has taken the program over. But everyone is loving this team. How could they not? There is the usual local coverage, but now everyone on the national scene, especially ESPN, is about the Orange as well. And it started early this season by Syracuse taking MSG by storm.

Wes Johnson started strong and so did the hype. Then they just kept winning, going undefeated in the non-conference slate and staying undefeated on the road, with only the two setbacks. It reached a culmination with the Villanova game on Saturday when 34,616 fans packed the Dome to see the hometown heroes throttle ‘Nova. It has been a very good year indeed.