Final 4 Pick
Syracuse has played the underdog card all Tournament long and this is where it got them, into the Final Four. The Orange take on North Carolina, a team that already swept them this season. The Tar Heels have been in the opposite situation throughout March Madness, now having won every Game by at least 14 points and six of their last seven by double digits.
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The same can’t be said about Syracuse, who needed to come back against Gonzaga for a three-point win and most recently in the Elite 8, ended the Game on an incredible run against Virginia. It was unexpected to say the least as the Orange went on a 25-4 run late in the second half and turned a double-digit deficit into a six-point win.
They’ll need to do the same as UNC is sitting around as a -9 to -10 point favorite in most books.
The first two times these teams played, UNC didn’t walkaway with the wins. The Heels had some resistance, winning by 11 in Syracuse (in January), after being tied at halftime. But when these teams played in early March in Raleigh, the Heels won just 75-70, and the Orange were in the Game the entire way. Syracuse kept it close despite going 5-of-20 from distance and turning the ball over 15 times on the road. That’s a relevant fact for this Game.
No one has really dominated these matchups for either team, which usually isn’t the case for UNC. That’ll be most important for Brice Johnson, who has been unstoppable in the Tournament thus far. Johnson is averaging 20 points and 10 boards per Game if that says anything. However, in the two meetings with ‘Cuse, he never really took over and that kept the Orange in Games. Syracuse’s zone did enough to stifle what Johnson could do in the paint.
One guy that has struggled even more against the zone is Marcus Paige. While he had 16 assists combined in the first two meetings, he also went 3-of-18 from the field for just nine points. And yet, North Carolina still won both of those Games. Paige has been himself for the most part in the Tournament and has 34 points the last two Games.
The Tar Heels aren’t a great three-point shooting team, which hurts against the Syracuse zone and a main reason the Orange have a chance here. But still, with how North Carolina is playing, it’s hard to see them getting flustered. They haven’t found any resistance yet on the offensive end and can seemingly Scorewhenever they want. With their bigs down low led by Johnson, and Paige, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson doing their thing on the perimeter, not many teams can matchup.
The edge for Syracuse usually lies with its size and length and that’s how they took down Virginia last Game going into a press. The problem for the Orange is that they only go seven guys deep with DaJuan Coleman being their only true big at 6-9. Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon will be tasked with limiting Brice Johnson for the most part as well as Isaiah Hicks off the bench. Lydon has been outstanding on the defensive end this Tournament with 17 blocks in the last three Games. A bonus is when he hits threes, and he hit three of them against Virginia.
But much like that Virginia Game, this will come down to what Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson can do on the offensive end. One of them will get a notable size advantage, depending who Paige and Berry guard and that could be what keeps the Orange in the Game. Trevor Cooney scored 27 points in the first meeting, but he’s a streaky shooter and that can’t be relied upon. It may come down to Richardson again for Syracuse, who was the fire starter against Virginia, finishing with 23 points and taking over the Game in the second half. The Cavaliers didn’t have anyone to defend a 6-6 guard that was hitting step-back threes, nor does anyone for that matter.
Syracuse is a large underdog, but as seen earlier in the season, the Orange have the tools to keep this close. To pull off another insane upset, they’ll need a big Game from Gbinije or Richardson, which is do-able. But on the other end, stopping Brice Johnson may be out of the question.
Our Pick – Syracuse +9.5