Survive and advance.
Meaning: Win every game by any means necessary. Pretty or ugly just get the victory. It's a March college basketball tradition (used mostly by announcers like rappers regurgitating, 'mind on my money...' into every song). The funny thing is, for Syracuse survive and advance has been a way life. Whether it be coming from behind to beat Stanford in November or doing the same against Connecticut Thursday. Or by withstanding scandals, allegations, and just plain good ole bad press.
After surviving the Huskies on Thursday (in a game that screamed, 'Classic Thursday Big East tourney loss') the No. 2 Syracuse Orange advance to play the Cincinnati Bearcats at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament (ESPN). Cincinnati doing their own surviving by outlasting Georgetown in double overtime to move on to the semis.
For Syracuse, nothing embodies this season of 'Survive and Advance' more than the first time these two teams played. SU was coming off a bad loss at Notre Dame, their first of the season, and the Orange were again playing without Fab Melo. It was the second straight road game for SU. One that, prior to its start, felt like it could be the second loss of the season for the Orange. Syracuse would play inspiring defense coupled with Kris Joseph (17 points) and Rakeem Christmas (9 rebounds) and pull out a classic 2011-12 Orange win, beating Cincinnati 60 - 53. Doing just enough to get a big W.
As for a preview, let me at least throw out the requisite, Cincinnati is coming off a double overtime game, so watch their legs on long jump shots. That will be a big talking point tonight, but it shouldn't be and you and I both know why. In the 2009 Big East tourney Syracuse played 6 overtimes and won an overtime the next night before losing in the finals! The Bearcats may have fatigue, but it won't be that much worse than any Syracuse player's issues. Outside of what I'll coin the 'Fatigue Factor,' I think there are two main areas of concern in this game for the Orange.
The first is easy. Scoop Jardine. As in, what was up with Scoop in Thursday's win over Connecticut? The box score says he played 18 minutes, but it felt like he wasn't even in New York City. Granted, the Orange did come back and beat the Huskies, but it's clear the half court offense needs Scoop to be efficient and effective. Until Joseph stepped up as the facilitator, SU's offensive sets were virtually nonexistent. The Orange are considered deep by the amount of bodies that can play, but in terms of actually leading the team it's Joseph, Dion Waiters, and Jardine.
Another point of emphasis for tonight's semi has to be on Cincinnati center Yancy Gates. During the team's first match up Gates was expected to be a monster against a Melo-less Orange team. Granted Gates did score 16 and pull down 10 boards, but I wouldn't call it a dominate performance. Thursday at the Garden against the Hoyas Gates was dominate in scoring 23 (season high) and grabbing 8 rebounds. Gates battled Georgetown big man Henry Sims on defense and became a center piece of the offense. It was probably the game Bearcats fans have been waiting for all year/career from the six foot nine senior. Although big men who have a shooting touch and a high basketball IQ usually worry me more than the classic bruising center, if Gates brings the same intensity to tonight's game, he could single-handidly out rebound and out work SU. A legit worry.
Orange fans would probably have preferred to play and beat Georgetown, especially at the Garden, but Cincinnati is the better match up for SU. The Bearcats have similar issues in the half-court offense and, in their first game against each other, Syracuse, without Melo, actually out-rebounded Cincinnati. I don't think SU can go too far without an engaged Jardine, but I do think they have enough fire power to beat the Bearcats san or sans Scoop. This game will be ugly at times, but the Orange should survive and advance. The same old same old for this Syracuse team.