Syracuse had to squeeze out a win against Virgina Tech on Wednesday to advance to Friday's NIT Season Tip-Off championship. Stanford blew out Oklahoma State on the way to the title game. That trend, along with the fact that the Cardinal are on a roll equal to that of the Orange (both 5-0 to start the season), make the tilt the biggest early-season test for SU.
The Orange utilized defense to fuel offense in the second half against the Hokies, once again overcoming a slow offensive start. The No. 5 team in America may not be as fortunate against a sound Stanford squad. In the rout of Oklahoma State, the Cardinal held an 11 point lead at the half and opened the gap further in the second half. Josh Owens, Chasson Randle, and Aaron Bright combined for 53 points in the win each while shooting well over 50 percent from the floor.
If Syracuse is set to win a championship on Friday, its defense will have to neutralize the trio of scorers while bucking the trend of starting slow at the offensive end. Scoop Jardine, who was left out of the lineup for nearly the entire second half on Wednesday in favor of Dion Waiters, will need to play with a pass-first mentality in hopes of getting the scoring going sooner than later. Kris Joseph, Waiters, C.J. Fair and Brandon Triche will need to continue to be aggressive the ball in their hands to compliment the defense.
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For Stanford, Bright's play may be key. He got away with turning the ball over more (five) than the amount of times he assisted a teammate (four) in the blow-out. If that trend is duplicated, Syracuse should be able to come away with its first NIT title since 2001.
The Orange are among the deepest teams in America, and it remains a team fueled by tough defense. Baye Moussa Keita never seemed to get into much of a rhythm on Wednesday in relief of Fab Melo, and Va. Tech was able to force him into uncomfortable situations. Should he rebound from the performance and shut-down the lane while in the game, Syracuse will be in good shape. If either he or Melo is unable to control the paint, the smart-shooting Cardinal may claim victory.