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California MBB vs. Syracuse: What Does Syracuse Think? An Orange Q & A

After a heart-stopping ending to the UNLV game, Cal retakes the floor at HP Pavilion to take on Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orange, out of the Big East. Syracuse is coming off of an emasculation of Montana, and has deep NCAA tournament aspirations. For a Syracuse perspective on the unusual matchup, we turned to Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, the SBNation Syracuse Orange site. Thanks to Sean and Dan for their candid responses. Go Bears!

Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim is one of the winning-est coaches in college basketball.
Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim is one of the winning-est coaches in college basketball.
Ezra Shaw

1. What is your prediction for this game?

Sean Keeley: I'm certainly not expecting to win by 47 again, but I do think Syracuse has turned a corner and will be able to keep up their strong lay as of late (minus the Louisville second half). Cal should be able to keep pace a while and maybe even take it down to the wire with some hot shooting, but the Orange should pull away in the end, taking this one 69-60. In theory.

Dan Lyons: Admittedly, I haven't seen a ton of Cal hoops this year, but looking over the records and stats and such, I'm fairly confident heading into Saturday, more because of how Syracuse is playing than anything about Cal. Aside from that disastrous second half in the Big East tournament final against Louisville, SU has been playing its best ball of the year as of late, and while Cal looked impressive against UNLV nothing that they did really instilled much fear in me. However, you guys have a good coach who's been around forever and is clearly familiar with Boeheim and our style, so anything can happen. If we're betting, I'll take Syracuse by eight.

2. Who is the #1 player on offense for the Orange?

Sean Keeley: It's an interesting question because if you just want me to say who scores the most, it's C.J. Fair. Fair is the most reliable offensive player on the team for sure. If we're looking for a spark, James Southerland can change the complexion of a game with hot three-point shooting unlike anyone else. While he doesn't score as much, I'm going to actually say Michael Carter-Williams is the most important player on offense. When he's dishing out assists and creating opportunities for the rest of the team, instead of worrying about lining his own stat sheet, Syracuse is unstoppable.

Dan Lyons: This is a tough question, because it switches from game to game for Syracuse. C.J. Fair is easily the most consistent player on the offensive end for SU. There have only been a handful of game this season at most where C.J. really hasn't showed up. You can almost always count on him for 15-18 per game. However, he's not a game breaking player. That's James Southerland. When James is on, Syracuse isn't going to lose many games as he can absolutely fill it up from three-point range. When he's cold, teams can pack it in and our offense loses all of its spacing and a lot of its potency. I'd call C.J. our 'best' offensive player, but James is probably our most important.

3. Who is the #1 player on defense for the Orange?

Sean Keeley: Probably Carter-Williams again. He has more than double the amount of steals as anyone else on the team and when he's able to convert a turnover, the Orange excel in transition. When we have someone at the top of the zone who can create turnovers and change the complexion of the plays, it's huge.

Dan Lyons: This is another tough one due to the nature of our zone, but I'll go with Michael Carter-Williams. He has tremendous length for a point guard and does a ton of damage in the passing lanes at the top of the zone, and he's especially disruptive against teams who aren't familiar with attacking Syracuse's defense.

4. What does Syracuse need to do to win this game?

Sean Keeley: Syracuse needs to first and foremost is keep hitting their shots. Even if one guy is having an off-night, as long as the other guys keep it going, they'll be fine. Brandon Triche needs to remain a relevant member of the offense and not fade away as he has a way of doing at times. Defensively, the Orange just need to maintain the tough zone in the paint and force Cal to try and beat us with bad perimeter shots.

Dan Lyons: If SU continues to knock down shots like it has in post-season play so far, they should be okay on offense. Defensively, it looks like Cal is really good at scoring inside the arc, so if the SU can force Cal's offense out to the perimeter and make them beat the zone from long-range, that's usually a good recipe when facing teams who don't have a ton of marksmen on the roster.

#6 Syracuse vs #1 Louisville 01/19/13 (Full Game) (via iDoItBIGson)

5. What does Cal need to do to beat Syracuse?

Sean Keeley: Put the pressure on. Look at the Louisville game and watch how out of sync Syracuse looked when the Cardinals pressed and put pressure on the guards. Otherwise, if you can knock down a bunch of threes and bully our big men around (which has happened), Cal's got a good shot.

Dan Lyons: Going off of the last question, IF Cal can go crazy from three point range, that's one way to do it, but that's easier said than done. From what I've seen, the Cal guards do a pretty good job of penetrating, so if they can get into the middle of the zone and do some damage from there, and can shut down Southerland and Brandon Triche on the other side, they'll have a chance to pull the upset.

6. So, how annoyed are you that you're a 4 seed, playing 3,000 miles away from home, in an arena within an hour's drive of your 12 seed opponent's campus?

Sean Keeley: A LOT of Syracuse fans are pretty annoyed about this. Personally, I find it irksome but I think at the end of the day it's not the massive deal everyone is making it out to be. Location helps but it doesn't win you the game. Last year we played the East Regional in Boston. In theory, we should have beaten Ohio St, but we didn't, because what happened on the floor was more important. We've played in plenty of hostile arenas this season, I don't see it being a major issue.

Dan Lyons: The whole "being in the East region and playing in San Jose" thing is weird to me, but I get how the whole pod thing works so I'm not going to get too worked up about it. Cal getting put there is definitely the stranger part of the equation, but the whole seeding for this tournament seemed more screwy than normal this year. Syracuse has gotten some really favorable pods in years past, so I won't be the one to throw stones here.

7. When I glance at the stats, the first thing I notice about Syracuse's defense is that nobody shoots well against the Orange anywhere from the field, and that they lead the nation in blocked shots. How would you recommend Cal go about finding good looks?

Sean Keeley: Find a way to penetrate the middle of the zone. You'll force the wings and guards to clamp down and that will open up shooting lanes on the outside. If you've got a hot hand, this can cause major trouble for the Orange.

Dan Lyons:Step one: find Georgetown. Step two: kidnap Otto Porter. Step three: play him instead of Bak Bak. Step four: ??? Step five: Profit.

If you guys have a forward who can knock down a mid range jumper and has some passing skills, park him at the free throw line and run your offense through him. That's always been the most effective way to get open looks against the zone, although most teams don't have the personnel to do it.

Cal Men's Basketball: NCAA Tournament Open Practice & Media Day (3/20/13) (via calathletics)

8. Cal has employed both a zone and a man-to-man defense of late depending on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent. Which defense would you recommend Monty employ on Saturday?

Sean Keeley: You're probably better off playing man-to-man because, let's face it, if there's any team in the nation with the most experience practicing against the zone, it's this one.

Dan Lyons: As a Syracuse fan, I totally recommend you play only man-to-man and don't even think about playing zone, because we play zone so you should TOTALLY assume we know how to play offense against it, and definitely don't watch any game film from Louisville or Georgetown.

9. Who do you want to punch in the face?

Sean Keeley: Anyone wearing Georgetown clothing. Anyone who went to Georgetown. Anyone named George Towne.

Dan Lyons: All Hoyas. Many Huskies. Possibly the NCAA, but hopefully not until the offseason. Sometimes Doug Gottlieb. Not sure about his brother, but I guess we'll find out this weekend. Best of luck!