Orange - Sooners Preview

Last time these two schools met, SU prevailed 63-47 in the regional finals of the 2003 NCAA tournament, which SU would go on to win. The Orange's 2-3 zone stymied the Sooners that day in Albany, giving SU its second of four wins over Big Twelve teams en route to the championship trophy. While many things have changed since SU and OU met in Albany, one thing remains constant: Jim Boeheim.

Jim Boeheim will be aiming for his 800th career victory tonight when the two teams tip.  Boeheim, a lifelong Orangeman, is known for his trademark 2-3 zone defense.  Meanwhile, OU has struggled through coaching turmoil.  But with National Player of the Year Candidate Blake Griffin and a young but brilliant Jeff Capel guiding the troops, this Sooners team will be far from an easy out.

The matchup of SU and Oklahoma will be an interesting clash of styles and a matchup of teams from the top two conferences in the country.  Boasting eight of the final twelve teams in the tournament, the Big East and Big Twelve have proven without a doubt they are the best conferences in the country this season (Yes, I'm talking to you Bill Simonson). 

Besides Griffin, OU features six other players that receive significant minutes.  Freshman guard Willie Warren ushers in the new era in Norman, averaging nearly fifteen points and three assists per game while veteran point guard Austin Johnson completes the backcourt.  He posts just under nine points and four assists per game for the Sooners.

In Warren, Taylor Griffin and Tony Crocker, OU has a trio of streaky long-range shooters.  All have posted good numbers through the season but struggled with their shot from time to time.  OU also has Cade Davis, a sharpshooter who finds his niche as a role player off the bench.  He thrives in the three point shooting category, however; forty of his fifty baskets this season have been from behind the stripe.

SU and Oklahoma are similar in many respects, as both average nearly eighty points per game while giving up about seventy.  While both teams will look to push the tempo, it's the defenses that will decide tonight's contest.  As for common opponents the two teams have in common, there's just one:  Coppin State.  Both OU and SU handled the MEAC team easily in early season matchups.

This contest is likely to be a grind it out affair that goes back and forth.  Expect this one to go down to the wire and feature more swings and subplots than a soap opera.  So, wherever you may be, sit back and prepare to enjoy a helluva basketball game in the Sweet 16, as Syracuse returns to its place among the elite.

Six Keys To The Game / Pressing Questions

-Blake Griffin may be the big man with better draft prospects, but SU's Arinze Onuaku may play a bigger role in the final outcome of the game.  ‘Cuse fans can stop reading here because it's been said over and over, but here's the stat:  SU is now 18-0 when Onuaku scores twelve or more points and 10-9 when he fails to reach that plateau.

-Paul Harris has a reputation for stepping up in big games.  Whether it's completely deserved or not, you can't question that he is bubbling over with talent.  And in one of these tournament games, SU is going to need Paul to step his offensive game up.  Perhaps tonight's the night; like most other nights, Harris should prove to be a decided mismatch for the opponent.

-34 opponents have tried and only five of them have succeeded in solving the mystery of beating Oklahoma.  What's the key?  Well, the Sooners lost four of six games in one particularly grueling stretch that also coincided with a Blake Griffin injury.  In nearly every Sooners setback this season, Griffin has been saddled with an injury or foul trouble.  And for what it's worth, freshman guard Willie Warren has taken a double-digit number of shot attempts in each of OU's five losses this season.  While he went off in some of those games for twenty-plus, he struggled mightily in the others.

-Many teams tend to go as their point guard goes.  For OU, that might not be good news.  Though Austin Johnson is a senior, he's still had a few growing pains throughout this year.  Johnson is just 11 for 39 from the floor in OU's five defeats and has only had four or more assists in just 4 of his last 14 games.

-There are a few certain things each team will have to do to win this game.  First, the battle on the glass will be vitally important, as will the turnover battle.  SU has turned it around (no pun intended) as of late, while Jeff Capel's club averages thirteen turnovers per game.  SU has seemed to thrive in the transition game this season and if this game gets into an up-and-down affair, it should favor SU with its spot up shooters and plethora of athletes that can both shoot it and dish it.

-In all likelihood, whichever team wins the first twenty minutes will win the game.  Syracuse has lost just once this season when holding a halftime lead.  Meanwhile, in four of OU's five losses, it faced a deficit at the halfway point.

Prediction:  #3 Syracuse 78, #2 Oklahoma 75

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