Why Syracuse Could Realistically Make A Run To the Final Four

by Allison Case
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They're the team that didn't belong in the tournament. Yet, they're the team that has made it to the Sweet Sixteen in dominating fashion.

That's right, the no. 10 seeded Syracuse Orange have exceeded expectations and stunned critics by making a run in the NCAA tournament. They've brought the madness to March, indeed.

After first knocking off no. 7 seeded Dayton, the Orange went on to crush the no. 15 seed Middle Tennessee, via a 25-point victory.

While critics of the Orange claimed that Syracuse was given a gift with their matchup against MTSU instead of no. 2 Michigan State, the Orange capitalized and have been playing some of their best basketball this season -- and not a moment too soon.

While the Orange still have challenges ahead of them, they have nothing to lose. Nobody expected them to make it past the first round and here they are, left with 15 of the best teams in the nation.

With no. 11 Gonzaga a favorite to 'Cuse in the Sweet Sixteen, the Orange will need their defense to step up to be able to hold off the dominant Bulldogs offense.

With 'Cuse's famous 2-3 zone defense playing a key role in their contests against Dayton and Middle Tennessee, it is sure to bring some trouble to Gonzaga's offense. The unique zone is something that Gonzaga isn't used to, and despite having almost a week to prepare, the 2-3 zone isn't something to scoff at.

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Led by players Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon, the zone has been effective this season against top-ranked teams like Duke and Notre Dame. Roberson, in particular who recorded 18 and nine rebounds against Dayton and MTSU respectively, has proven his worth for the zone defense that has been a staple for Syracuse during the Boeheim era.

While Boeheim's famous defense is not at its peak, it still is enough to frustrate upcoming opponents. Case in point? The strong Dayton squad was held to only 32.1 percent shooting against the zone, while MTSU was held to 29.7 percent shooting. In both games, opponents were held to no more than 51 points.

Beyond the Gonzaga match-up, a victory would pit the Orange against either Midwest no. 1 Virginia Cavaliers or no. 4 Iowa State. With Virginia being one of the most vulnerable of the high seeds remaining in the tournament, Syracuse would have a desirable match-up against either of those teams if their defense can remain up to snuff.

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So far in the tournament, Syracuse has experience playing out for them in Trevor Cooney and senior point guard Michael Gbinije. Gbinije, coming off a 23-point performance against MTSU, will be one to watch on the court alongside Cooney, who is known for his clutch three-point shots.

Ever since they missed the tournament last year, due to disciplinary reasons, Syracuse is the team that people love to hate. But it seems as though this year, the Orange have used the hate and criticism as a fire to spark their run in the tournament.

Syracuse needs have all hands on deck to make this happen, but they have the talent, the experience and the zone defense to get the upsets done. Not only that, but playing their best basketball all season in the tournament, they have the momentum to take the city of Syracuse back to the Final Four.

Keep on hating on the Syracuse Orange because, guess what? They love it. And Orange fans will tell you, Syracuse basketball can, and will, shock the world.