Orange Meet 'Bama In Sweet 16

The improbable has happened; the Syracuse Orangemen are in the Sweet 16.<br><br>

With a dwindling field and upsets across the board, the Orangemen's chances of repeating as national champions continue to grow in their favor.

Now, fifth-seeded Syracuse can reach a regional final in consecutive years for the first time in school history on Thursday when it faces No. 8 Alabama in the semifinals of the Phoenix Region.

Syracuse (23-7) has followed up its national championship season with another surprising campaign. After a rough stretch in the season when the Orangemen lost four of five in the BIG EAST, the Orangemen rebounded and have now reached the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the last nine seasons under coach Jim Boeheim.

It hasn't been easy for Syracuse, tight wins over Brigham Young and Maryland, and Alabama poses a formidable opponent.

The Orangemen led by as many as 16 points against the Terrapins, withstanding a furious finish to hold on. The Orangemen had a lot of trouble with BYU's big men, keeping that game close until the bitter end as well.

Syracuse's short rotation and lack of experience beyond its four starting sophomores and juniors, has forced the starters to log more effective minutes.

Junior center Craig Forth, who averages 5.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg, doubled his season averages and came up with a double-double on Saturday.

A similar performance by Forth, combined with some outside-shooting from freshmen Demetris Nichols and Louie McCroskey would nearly guarantee an Orangemen victory.

Still, even without the supporting cast, if Gerry McNamara, who poured in a tournament-high 43 points in a first-round win over Brigham Young, and Hakim Warrick, who netted 26 in Saturday's 72-70 triumph over Maryland, carry the load and combine for around 50 points, a meeting with UConn, assuming the Huskies drop Vanderbilt, seems immanent.

Alabama (19-12), who while being the underdog shouldn't be completely written off after upsetting top-seeded Stanford, also needed a pair of tight finishes to advance to its first Sweet 16 since 1991.

Antoine Pettway's runner with five seconds left was the deal-closer in a 65-64 first-round win over Southern Illinois, the Crimson Tide rallied from 13 down to upend the Cardinal.

Alabama's season and impressive run through the tournament may rest on the shoulders of explosive sophomore Kennedy Winston. The 6-5 small forward with power is averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 boards through the first two games.

The two teams have met twice before, with Syracuse coming out on top in both outings. The last meeting came in Tuscaloosa with the Orangemen posting a 70-66 victory on January 11, 1997.

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