Saturday, April 2, 2016, 1 PM EST: UNC Tar Heels vs. Syracuse Orange
- First Round: 70-51 vs. 7 Dayton
- Second Round: 75-52 vs. 15 Middle Tennessee
- Sweet 16: 63-60 vs. 11 Gonzaga
- Elite 8: 68-62 vs. 1 Virginia
Michael Gbinije, G, Senior - 17.6p/4.1r/4.4a
Malachi Richardson, G, Freshman - 13.3p/4.3r/2.1a
Tyler Roberson, F, Junior - 9.0p/8.4r/1.4a
Trevor Cooney, G, Senior - 12.7p/2.5r/1.6s
It looks like Cinderella decided to wear orange this year. Syracuse, miraculously, managed to advance to the Final Four after being one of the biggest bubble teams in this year’s field. With Coach Boeheim suspended for the first nine games of ACC play, the Orange went just 4-5 in his absence. Upon his return to the sideline, Syracuse finished 5-4 but had quality wins over Notre Dame, FSU, and NC State. That suspension also played a part in them getting to the tournament as the committee believed they would’ve been better had he been there.
Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson are truly the heart and soul of this team and account for nearly half of the Orange offense. Gbinije had many impressive performances throughout the regular season, including 23 points against Georgetown, 34 against Pitt in the conference tournament, and 24 in the comeback win over the Virginia Cavaliers.
A former All-American, Richardson’s effort this season has been phenomenal. Kaleb Joseph only appeared in 18 games this year, so Richardson got plenty of time. He’s been the perfect compliment to Gbinije and gives the Orange a second guy who can erupt for 20+ at any moment. He exploded for 21 points in the second half of their Elite 8 victory.
In reality, Syracuse has advanced this far because they’ve played marvelous defense. Tyler Roberson (along with Tyler Lydon) is the defensive anchor for this team. Among Orangemen with a 30 minute per game average, Roberson’s DRtg per 100 is about 100-second-best on the team. He isn’t a great shot-blocker (0.7 BPG average), but a tenacious rebounder instead. Through the four tournament games so far, he’s pulled down 47 rebounds. In the opening round against Dayton he had 18, then 12 against Gonzaga two games ago.
Previous Matchups: 1/9/16: UNC 84 - Cuse 73; 2/29/16: UNC 75 - Cuse 70
Despite being swept by UNC during the regular season, Syracuse showed that they can play against the title contender. Trevor Cooney has played a significant role in Syracuse’s tournament success so far. After having a sub-par regular season, Cooney has lifted his three-point percentage to almost 47%. When he’s hitting shots from deep, the floor opens up and allows Gbinije and Richardson to get into the lane and create; that decongestion allows Roberson and Lydon to attack the glass as well.
Carolina is a poor-shooting team from three and showed it in their previous matchups, shooting 19% and 24%, respectively. The zone needs to be incredibly active, especially when Richardson and Gbinije are up top because of their length-after all, there’s a National Championship game berth on the line. Once the shots go up, whoever’s closest to Brice Johnson needs to put a body on him and focus on keeping him off the glass. In the two matchups against the Orange, Johnson only grabbed 14 total rebounds (seven per game) in 57 minutes of action, about three below his season average.
Since Richardson and Gbinije are going to be the primary ball handlers, they must not excessively turn the ball over. It’s one of the ten basketball commandments, but the last game against the Tar Heels saw 11 combined turnovers from the two guards, including seven from Gbinjie, which is unacceptable.
It boils down to Syracuse putting together a nearly-perfect, total team effort. If they slack on offense, defense, or the boards, Carolina will capitalize; Brice Johnson was a first team All-American for a reason. While an upset isn’t likely, it’s entirely possible because of how well Syracuse has played this season. And they’ve already upset a very strong number one team.