BYU: Senior Rafael (Rafa) Araujo (6-11, 280 pounds), the MWC Co-Player of the Year, is one of the top big men in country, averaging 18.2 PPG and 10.0 RPG this season. He is gaining a national reputation for his physical play, yet he possesses soft hands, passing skills and a variety of effective post moves in the paint. The majority of NBA draft analysts project Rafa will likely be a 1st round draft pick.
Syracuse: Junior Craig Forth (7-0, 265 pounds) has been solid this season for the Orangemen averaging 5.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.2 BPG. Although not a big offensive contributor, he is considered the anchor of the Orangemen's smothering 2-3 zone defense.
Summary: This is easily BYU's biggest mismatch. Expect Syracuse to double and triple team Araujo until BYU proves they can win the game from the perimeter. However, Araujo will find a way to get his points.
BYU: Freshman Garner Meads, a former McDonald's Prep All-American, started the season on the bench, shaking off the rust from a three-year competitive layoff because of a two-year LDS mission service and a redshirt year. Meads stepped into the starting role midway through the season and has been a tough and steady contributor ever since.
Syracuse: Junior All-Big East player, Hakim Warrick (6-8, 205 pounds), is one of the most exciting players in the nation averaging 19.6 points and 8.8 rebounds this year. He is very athletic, quick with great leaping ability, and gets most of his points off tip-ins, put backs, and fast breaks. He is a potential 1st round pick if he declares early for the NBA draft.
Summary: This is a big mismatch in Syracuse's favor. To contain Warrick, BYU must muscle him to the outside where he is less effective. Boston College effectively rotated three big players to push him away from the basket in Syracuse's loss in the Big East tournament.
BYU: Senior Mark Bigelow (6-7, 200 pounds), a four-year starter and BYU's all-time three-point scorer, has averaged 13.3 PPG this season. He has the ability to slash to the basket when necessary, although he has struggled this year to find consistency with his outside shot. When he does find his stroke, he can score in big chunks.
Syracuse: Freshman Demetris Nichols, 6-8, 190 pounds, was moved into the starting lineup midway through the season this year and has performed well. Offensively, he hasn't found his game yet, but he has helped significantly on defense playing team defense. Just like Meads he has great potential, but is likely a year away from being a major contributor.
Comment: Which Bigelow will show up? BYU needs a strong game from Bigelow to challenge the Orangemen's zone defense in order to take pressure off Araujo in the middle. The freshman versus four-year starter should be a no-brainer.
BYU: Junior Mike Hall (6-3, 205 pounds) has made a smooth and impactful transition from junior college All-American to Div. 1 by averaging 12.7 PPG on the season. He's BYU's most exciting player and biggest threat to create his own shot, including a highlight-reel dunk over MWC Co-Player of the Year – Nick Welch of Air Force – some weeks ago. The slam-jama was the ESPN Play of the Day. More importantly, he is BYU's defensive stopper, evidenced by his MWC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Syracuse: the 6-5 Josh Pace, a junior, has contributed greatly this season averaging 9.9 PPG and 5.5 RPG. He started the season at small forward, but was switched to shooting guard after starting point guard, Billy Edelin, quit the team. Although an adequate scorer, his defense and rebounding have been his biggest contributions.
Summary: Pace will likely be one of Syracuse's ball handlers to free up the three-point bomber Gerry McNamara. Syracuse will need a solid defensive effort from McNamara to stop the explosive Hall. Hall will likely utilize his defensive skills to guard Syracuse's McNamara instead of Pace.
BYU: Senior Luiz Lemes has played a valuable role this season, averaging 8.6 PPG and 4.4 APG and 41 percent from three-point range. Over the past three games, he has stepped up his performance by averaging 16.7 PPG. If he continues his improved play, BYU will be fine.
Syracuse: Sophomore Gerry McNamara, a second team All-Big East selection, had a phenomenal year averaging 16.2 PPG, 3.2 APG, and hit 90 three-pointers, a school record. He started the year at shooting guard, but was shifted to point guard halfway through the year.
Summary: If McNamara gets an opening, he'll hit a three. BYU's Hall will have to lock down on him. Lemes needs to continue as a scoring threat that Syracuse must respect.
BYU: Senior forward Jake Shoff, 6-9, 265 pounds, will continue to contribute as a valuable banger with the big boys to spare Araujo from critical fouls. Senior Kevin Woodberry, who is 6-0, 170 pounds, provides athletic relief at both guard positions. The three-point specialist, freshman guard Mike Rose (6-2 180 pounds), will come in to try and break down the 2-3 zone if the shots aren't falling for the starters.
Syracuse: Senior center Jeremy McNeil, (6-8 250), provides a defensive presence off the bench and recorded three blocks against Boston College. Freshman guard Louie McCroskey, (6-5 187), provides a scoring threat if needed.
Summary: BYU relies heavily on its bench and can bring in some very experienced role players onto the court. Syracuse's bench has been shut out three times this year and three freshmen are key reserves. Enough said.
BYU: Cougar head coach Steve Cleveland has never won an NCAA tournament game. This is one monkey he definitely wants to get off his back.
Syracuse: Orangemen head man Jim Boeheim has led his team deep into the NCAA tournament several times before finally winning last year's national championship. He'll have his team ready.
BYU is a senior-heavy team hungry for a tournament victory and won't be intimidated by last year's NCAA national champion. Life, post Carmelo, won't treat Syracuse quite so grandly in the NCAA tournament. The altitude of Denver, the pro-BYU crowd, and the super-sized Araujo will be too much for the Orangemen to overcome.
PREDICTION: BYU 65, Syracuse 63
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