Friday at approximately 8:40 p.m. CST the dean of Division I college basketball coaches will be looking for ways to eliminate the Tigers from the NCAA Tournament and have his talented team advance to the Elite Eight, one win away from a coveted Final four berth.
"I have been impressed with watching Auburn play," Boeheim says. "Surprisingly, they must be the only team in the country I didn't see play. I got the (ESPN) package and I watched games until they were off the air. I don't how I missed the team."
Auburn, 22-11 overall, will face the third-seeded Orangemen, who are 26-5 after surviving a big scare in the NCAA second round vs. Oklahoma State in Boston last week. Auburn won its two games in Tampa to advance to the Sweet 16 round at the soldout Pepsi Center in down Albany. Oklahoma and Butler are the other two teams that advanced to the East Regional finals.
"The thing that impressed me is how good they are," Boeheim says about the Tigers. "That is what surprised me. Knowing they beat Wake Forest and knowing they beat St. Joe's. I knew they were good, but just how good their inside presence is, how good Daniels is and how good their other guys are--these guys are good basketball players. They do a lot of different things. When you watch these guys as a coach, we don't look at what seed they are or what teams or what rating. They are good players who play well and are a very good basketball team. I have always been of the belief if you beat a No. 2 seed, you are better than they are."
Syracuse features one of the top players in the country in freshman forward Carmelo Anthony. It is widely believed he will be one (season) and done as a collegian and move to the NBA in this year's draft. On Thursday, Anthony said he didn't want to discuss the issue, noting it was time to focus on the NCAA Tournament.
When asked about a potential matchup with Auburn defensive ace Derrick Bird, Anthony said he didn't know much about Bird and didn't seem overly concerned that the AU senior has caused problems for a variety of top scorers.
Boeheim says that Anthony, a highly regarded recruit out of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, has more than lived up to advance billing. "Outstanding freshmen are asked to do more and he has done everything that we could have asked for," the coach says. "He has been a very good rebounder. He has been a very good leader. He wants to make big plays. The only fault he has is what great players try to do when they are young--he tries to do too much."
Even though Anthony is averaging 22.2 points and 9.9 rebounds, Boeheim says he has had a better first year player at Syracuse. "Billy Owens was the best freshman at Syracuse," Boeheim says. "He was really a complete player."
Kueth Duany, a 6-6 guard, is the only senior starter for Syracuse on a team that features lots of young talent. Boeheim singled out two more freshmen out for praise.
"Gerry McNamara is as solid a freshman player as you can have," he says of the 6-2 guard who is scoring 13.3 points per game. "He has used about 50 or 60 percent of his game. He has really played very conservatively, which is probably the right thing to do with this team. Billy (6-4 guard Billy Edelin, 9.3 points per game) is probably at 50 or 60 percent of what he can do. I think both of these guys are going to be a lot better next year.
"I am not sure how much better Carmelo is going to be next year," Boeheim says. "I would like to find out. I don't think his stats would get any better, but I think his decision-making would get a little better."
Tickets are very tough to find in Albany with many Syracuse fans in the area. SU's campus is a 2 1/2 hour drive. The crowd is expected to be heavily in favor of the home-state favorite Orangemen.
Auburn's Bird says the Tigers can't worry about something they can't control and are going to come out with the attitude they have to be mentally tough on Friday night.
Boeheim tried to talk down the homecourt advantage theory, noting his Orangemen had been eliminated from an NCAA Tournament game played at the Carrier Dome, his school's on-campus arena. "We had the majority of fans in Boston and I didn't see those fans helping us when it was 27-10 (Oklahoma State leading)," Boeheim says. "If you don't play well the fans aren't going to help you. That is true anywhere you play. I don't think it matters at this stage. The teams are too good. The officials are too good. It is a very slight advantage if it is an advantage."
Brandon Robinson shoots at the Pepsi Arena on Thursday.
NCAA Sweet 16 Notes: Syracuse center Craig Forth, a seven-foot, 265-pounder, is playing in his hometown of Albany. Boeheim notes the starting center's major contributions come on defense. Forth averages just 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. "Part of it is our offense has gone in another direction this year," Boeheim explains. "We are more efficient when we get the ball to our forwards and guards. Craig has done a very good job on defense. Both Jeremy (6-8, 242 junior backup center Jeremy McNeil, 3.5 points and 4.2 rebounds) and Craig are very important to whether we win or lose. It doesn't show up on the stat sheet all the time, but they are a big part of the way we play defense."...All four teams had light workouts at the Pepsi Center on Thursday. This will be the first time the Tigers have ever played a basketball game in Albany.