No. 4 Syracuse Orange (7-0)
Last time out: W, 74-67 vs. then-No. 18 Baylor on Wednesday (in Maui)
Syracuse beat Baylor to win its third EA Sports Maui Invitational Title by doing what it does best: forcing turnovers to create offense. The Orange forced 20 turnovers to finish with a 24-8 advantage in points off turnovers and shot 50.8 percent (30-for-59) from the floor.
Senior forward C.J. Fair scored a game-high 24 points and was named the tournament's MVP after averaging 18 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in Syracuse's three wins. Three other players finished in double figures for the Orange. Sophomore forward Jerami Grant had 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting while guards Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis each chipped in 11.
Syracuse led by eight at halftime and withstood several Baylor runs in the second half. The Orange took leads of 54-40 and 66-52, but the Bears clawed within six points with 3:07 to go. The teams traded points the rest of the way and Syracuse made all four of its free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the win.
Record: 30-10, 11-7 Big East
Indiana fans need not be reminded how the Orange advanced through the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse ended the top-seeded Hoosiers' season with a 61-50 win in the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange then throttled Marquette 55-39 to make the Final Four for the first time since winning a national championship in 2003. Their season ended with a 61-56 loss to Michigan.
Syracuse has made the NCAA Tournament each of the last five seasons, reaching at the least the Sweet 16 four times in that span.
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim
At Syracuse (38th season): 927-314. Career: same
Boeheim has led the Orange since the 1976-77 season and ranks second in career wins to only Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who has 963. Under Boeheim, Syracuse has missed the NCAA Tournament just eight times in 37 years and has not had a losing season.
What they do well:
Play "Boeheim Ball"
OK, so I totally made that term up. But in 37 seasons, Boeheim's philosophy and tactics have stayed relatively the same. Syracuse will wreak havoc with its patented 2-3 zone and create turnovers that lead to easy buckets. On the flip side, the Orange will rarely beat themselves by giving up the ball.
Not surprisingly, Syracuse leads the ACC in steals (10.6 per game) and turnover margin (+7.71). Syracuse turns the ball over just 9.7 times per game, which is tied for the best rate in the conference.
"I think as far as Syracuse goes, the things that are always going to remain constant with them are their athleticism, their length, they get a lot of steals and blocked shots, they are some of the nation's leaders," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "Offensively they are doing a great job of getting the ball into the paint and they are getting to the foul line. They have very good players at every position and it seems like they know what they are trying to get out of every position."
The Orange score at a good clip (76.7 points per game) and have shown the ability to win both shootouts and low scoring, grind-‘em-out types games. They know how to get out on the break after forcing a turnover (see the 10-3 advantage in fast break points and 24-8 advantage in points off turnovers against Baylor) and shoot a solid 35.2 percent from deep.
Four players average double-figure scoring, including Fair (18.0), Cooney (14.3), Grant (14.2) and Ennis (11.7). Ennis, a freshman, has done an admirable job replacing 2013 NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. He leads the Orange in assists (4.7) and has turned the ball over just eight times in seven games while playing 31.7 minutes per contest.
Syracuse has been solid on the defensive end as well. The Orange have allowed 64.1 points per game despite allowing opponents to shoot 45 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from beyond the arc, the latter ranking second-to-last in the ACC.
Part of Syracuse's struggles defending the three are a product of the 2-3 zone, but it's still a number that will catch Boeheim's attention.
F C.J. Fair, SR
Fair leads the team in minutes (36.4) and scoring (18) and is second in rebounding (5.9). Last season he became the 58th player in Syracuse history to score 1,000 points and was named Second Team All-Big East. He's an impressive 24-of-27 (88.9 percent) from the line.
F Jerami Grant, SO
Grant, who came from the same high school as Victor Oladipo, was ranked by Scout as the ninth-best power forward in the Class of 2013. He nonetheless had a relatively diminished role as a freshman last season, averaging 3.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game playing behind the since-graduated James Southerland.
Grant still hasn't cracked the starting lineup but has more-or-less replaced Southerland's production. He leads the Orange in rebounding (6.7) and is third in scoring (14.2).