Syracuse-Oklahoma: What the Orange Must Do To Advance

Matt ReaganCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2009

With Syracuse's win over Arizona St. on Sunday, the Orange are back in the sweet 16 for the first time since 2004.

The Oklahoma Sooners are up next and will present a big challenge. Probable National Player of the Year, Blake Griffin, has had a monster tournament so far averaging over 30 points and 15 rebounds a game.

If Syracuse is going to beat the Sooners several things will factor into the equation.

First and foremost the Orange will need to continue their strong guard play led by PG Jonny Flynn and SG Eric Devendorf. Both players had outstanding Big East Championship performances with Flynn winning the MVP and Devendorf becoming the all time leading scorer in the tournaments history.

Flynn has been simply brilliant as of late directing the Orange attack. He has limited his turnovers and has run the offense to near perfection. He seems to have a great grasp on when he should involve his teammates and when he needs to take over and score himself.

The much maligned Devendorf is a big shot specialist whose key threes propelled Syracuse to their win over ASU. Devendorf is the player who people love to hate, but his outside shooting and ability to drive the lane key the Oranges' offensive attack.

He has scored at least 20 points in four of the last five games for Syracuse and will probably need to get close to that for the Orange to advance.

The "X factor" in the Oranges' back court would have to be reserve SG Andy Rautins. He provides instant offense off the bench and also has a knack for knocking down big shots.

After going 0-6 from three in the first game against Stephen F. Austin, Rautins responded with a strong performance against ASU and scored 17 points while dishing out five assists. He continues to improve as a passer and plays inspired defense in the 2-3 zone.

Devendorfs' and Rautins' outside shooting will be key in opening up the inside for the Oranges' big men.

In the low post C Arinze Onuaku and PF Rick Jackson will have their hands full with Griffin.

Onuaku seems fully recovered from the tendinitis that shelved him for a number of games during the middle of the Big East schedule. The two combined for 25 points and 11 rebounds against ASU.

The "X factor" in the front court has to be SF Paul Harris.

Harris is a streaky player who grabbed 16 rebounds against SFA, but only went for four points and seven rebounds against ASU. Harris seems to play big in bigger games and came through with 29 points and 22 rebounds against UConn in the six OT thriller during the Big East championship.

If the Orange are going to win Harris is going to have to be the Windex man on the boards and will be challenged immensely by the 6'10", 255 pound PF Blake Griffin.

Another player to watch off the bench for Syracuse is reserve PF Kristof Ongenaut. Ongenaut doesn't put up gaudy stats but his hustle and willingness to do the dirty work inside are key for the Orange. At the very least his five fouls will come in handy in trying to slow down Griffin.

The biggest factor in the game against Oklahoma will undoubtedly be how the Sooners decided to attack the vaunted Orange 2-3 zone.

Syracuse has been playing much more inspired defense as of late and their nine wins in their last 10 games reflects this.

Griffin will most likely get his points but the key will be limiting the outside shooting from the Sooner guards.

Freshman Willie Warren is their best guard and averaged 14.7 points a game during the regular season. Warren shoots 38 percent from three and has the best chance of doing some damage against the Orange 2-3.

Syracuse needs to do a better job of finding shooters and making sure they contest their shots. Oklahoma doesn't possess any shooters that have shot better than 35 percent from three besides Warren.

If Syracuse can bait them into launching 25 to 30 shots from three they should be in good shape. But if the Sooners can knock down some early threes, containing Griffin inside is going to prove even more difficult.

I like Syracuses' chances against the Sooners due to their lack of strong guard play.

The Orange are no stranger to facing dominate big men as they have faced UConn center Hasheem Thabeet several times and Pittsburghs' big man DeJuan Blair.

I think they can allow Griffin to get his 25-30 points and still win the game. If they can limit the Sooner guards scoring and get strong play from their guards they should be able to negate a big performance from their star big man.

I look for this to be a close game and feel that PG Jonny Flynn will have an epic performance.

This is going to be a game where he will need to score and Flynn is almost unguardable when he decides to drive to the hoop.

If the Orange do advance to the next round a potential match up with No. 1 seed UNC is looming.

North Carolina, unlike Oklahoma has stellar guard play led by PG Ty Lawson and SG Wayne Ellington. The Tar Heels have the inside/out combination to give the Orange fits.

If Syracuse is going to advance to their second Final Four in the last six seasons, they are definitely going to have their work cut out for them.

They should have a little extra motivation as a win over the Sooners would give Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boehiem his 800th. But as the NCAA's have shown, strong guard play more times than not can get you into early April and a date to cut down the nets in Detroit.


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