Orange Meet Hoyas in BET Semifinals

On to the Semifinals. After a thrilling overtime victory against the #1 rated Connecticut Huskies, the Syracuse Orange(men) will take on the Georgetown Hoyas at 7 PM this evening in Madison Square Garden. Syracuse looks to keep its 5 game Big East Tournament win streak alive tonight and garner the right to play for back-to-back championships. They may have to do it without star guard Gerry McNamara, who has been the hero of the first two games of this tourney.

McNamara is currently listed as a game time decision after re-aggrevating a groin injury he suffered in his sophomore season. Despite the injury, which forced him to the bench for all of 4 minutes yesterday, he was still able to dish out a career-high 13 assists and also connect on a dramatic game-tying three pointer with 8 seconds left in regulation. It was his second buzzer-beating shot in two days.

If McNamara is not able to go, look for Boeheim to get extensive minutes for sophomore Josh Wright, who played a key roll in the SU victory yesterday. Wright came off the bench to hit a tough midrange floater late in the second half, then followed that up with an important three pointer from the corner. He also showed the ability to set up teammates, as his best play of the afternoon came on a drive and dish to Darryl "Mookie" Watkins, who finished with a dunk.

Georgetown Season to Date: The Hoyas finished the regular season 10-6 in a three way tie for 3rd in the Big East. They enter the game with a 21-8 overall record, clearly showing that head coach John Thompson III has the program headed in the right direction. Georgetown's biggest win of the season came on January 21st, when they shocked the previously undefeated Duke Blue Devils 87-84 in the MCI Center. They are currently ranked #23 in the country and have won 4 of their last 5 games.

Georgetown Personnel: This is not a particularly deep Georgetown team, but they have a very balanced offense with 6 players that average between 8 and 12 points a game. Jeff Green is the Hoyas' most talented player - at 6-9 he can do it all on the court. He killed the Orange(men) two weeks ago at the MCI Center, posting 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. He is the type of player who can consistently shred the SU zone with his passing and his ability to hit the mid-range shot.

The Hoyas complement Green with two strong frontline players in Brandon Bowman and Roy Hibbert. Bowman's scoring is down this year, but Hibbert has improved in every facet of the game, and poses serious problems at 7-2. The Gtown backcourt isn't nearly as strong as its frontcourt, but the trio of Jonathan Wallace, Ashanti Cook, and Darrel Owens are all very capable defenders and each can make an open jumpshot if need be. The only other player who sees appreciable minutes is 6-3 FR guard Jessie Sapp, who has come on strong late in the season. He's a very good athlete who uses his speed well in the open court.

Outlook: The toughest thing about the Hoyas is that they defend like the Hoyas of old. This is a scrappy team that is quick to loose balls and likes to turn their defense into instant offense. The biggest issue for the Orange today will be ballhandling. SU is not a particularly strong ballhandling team, but if Gerry can't go they become even weaker. Eric Devendorf will be forced into a larger roll handling the ball, and Josh Wright must be ready to run the team if called upon. Devendorf has been lackadaisical at times in the BET, but if he keeps that up against the Hoyas, SU's magical run through the tourney end today.

Three other keys in the this game:

1) Make the Hoyas work on offense. Syracuse held Georgetown to 68 points in the last meeting, but that was more a testament to the way the game was played than the quality of the defense. The Hoyas repeatedly scored late in the shot clock and although their final point total was not huge, they had an excellent conversion to possession ratio. One way to cut down on this ratio is to get some defensive rebounds.

In the MCI Center, the Hoyas outhustled the Orange on the offensive glass. Syracuse cannot afford to give up 20+ offensive rebounds again today, because Georgetown does a great job of resetting their offense and running clock if they have a lead (unlike the Huskies yesterday, who tried to play volleyball all game on the offensive glass). It might behoove head coach Jim Boeheim to show a little bit of man-to-man defense from time to time just to keep the Hoyas off balanced. They got very comfortable against the zone last time around, and that made things difficult for SU to mount a comeback.

2) Identify Jeff Green at all times. Green is superb at finding the seems in the SU zone, much like his predecessor Mike Sweetney. He killed SU in late February by hitting mid-range jumpers on the baseline and when facing the basket. The other he does very well is draw the defense and dish down low to Hibbert for easy scores, or kick to the Hoyas' perimeter shooters. SU needs to keep track of where he is, not allowing him to play the "point forward" position that he thrives at.

3) Attack the press. If/when the Hoyas go to a full court press (which you can bet they will if Gerry can't go today), the Orange must value the ball, but more importantly they must look to score. When the Hoyas pressed against SU in the MCI Center, it actually helped the Georgetown tempo. SU took so much time getting the ball over half court each trip that they only had 26-28 seconds to run their offense. This resulted in less possessions for both teams and a lower scoring game. The 'Cuse must look to punish the Hoyas for pressing by getting out in transition against it and looking to score. A few early conversions could force the Hoyas out of the press and allow SU to dictate tempo in the game. SU's offense has really improve in the last 3 games thanks to more transition basketball, scoring 82, 74, and 86. If this game gets played at the same tempo, the Orange will likely win.

Prediction: Despite the speculation that McNamara will sit, I think he'll play. He's a warrior and Boeheim loves kids who can play through pain. The big question is will this hurt the team? If Gerry can gut out another stunning performance like his first two in this tourney, the Orange will be playing for the championship on Saturday against either Pitt or Nova. SU has had Georgetown's number over the last few seasons and don't be surprised if they make the adjustments needed to compete against them tonight. Look for SU to continue its run. SU 73 Georgetown 70.


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