Finals week is a time of stress for students. But for fans this year, perhaps it was a time to decompress and assess what we know. This Syracuse basketball team is not what we're used to around here, but that may not be the worst thing. Now, with eight days off between games, can they find ways to improve upon what's been two straight, painful losses? We find out on Sunday, but first, we get a glimpse of what to expect from our opponent: Conference USA's Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, who we've only faced once before (a 106-98 OT victory at the Dome back in 1988).
Below, Jason Jones (who you should follow on Twitter) from SB Nation's Mid-Major Madness, stops by to chat all about the Bulldogs. Join us below, and swing over there too, if you want, to see how the other half lives.
Louisiana Tech finished with a 27-7 record last regular season, but missed the NCAAs. Was that a source of frustration for Bulldogs fans?
It wasn't so much the 27 win season and not getting in as it is the fact that it has been over 20 years (P.J. Brown years) that the Bulldogs have made the tournament.
What part of the game does Louisiana Tech excel most in? Where do they struggle?
Tech excels in the open court. Raheem Appleby can score in just about any fashion and Speedy Smith is really, really good at pushing the ball and getting easy looks for his teammates. Tech struggles in the half-court. With so many new players, it's hard to have any cohesion on offense. That said, Alex Hamilton is really good at getting in the lane and finishing or getting to the line.
Player Syracuse fans should be more afraid of: Raheem Appleby or Alex Hamilton?
Really it's Speedy Smith. Appleby and Hamilton will score, but if Smith isn't out there harassing the Syracuse point guard and pushing the ball up the floor, the Bulldogs are a different team.
How does Tech plan to compete with Syracuse on the glass given the Orange's two-headed rebounding monster (Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough)?
Rebounding is a struggle since Tech plays essentially four guards and their center, Michale Kyser, is very thin. Kyser can block shots and finish with the best of them, but he doesn't have the weight to bang inside. It has to be a team rebounding effort. Coach White will typically have three 6'6" athletes on the floor that can jump out of the gym. They will have to collectively go after every ball and try to get a body on somebody. He recruited two young guys, Merrill Holden and Leo Edwards, to help inside. Neither has earned many minutes this year, but Edwards was effective in limited minutes this week against ULL.
Syracuse has struggled to shoot the ball well this season (even worse than last season). Does that make them vulnerable to Louisiana Tech's gameplan?
Yes, if Syracuse struggles to shoot, that will make them susceptible to Tech forcing a couple of turnovers and going on a quick 6-0 or 8-0 run. The Bulldogs can score quickly off of missed shots and turnovers will only amp up the pressure on Syracuse to score the next time down the floor.
Does the 2-3 zone present some very big problems for the Bulldogs on Sunday?
Jim Boeheim is definitely the zone guru and he will have a great game plan for Tech. The Bulldogs struggle to score in the half court setting and I'm sure Boheim's zone will make it even tougher.
What do you think of Jim Boeheim? Always curious what others have to say about him...
I've read all the accounts over the years of the easy non-conference schedules that pad his wins and get him into the tournament with a gaudy record. The main thing is he is a winner, he showed he could adapt to the times and win a championship with a one and done (really he was ahead of the times because Carmelo came through a decade ago, way before these John Calipari teams) players.
Predictions? Any chance Louisiana Tech pulls an upset here?
Tech needs a win badly after dropping games to Temple and ULL. They need a big name victory on their resume if they have any hopes of getting an at large bid. I expect Tech to bounce back after losing to ULL. Tech has a shot at the upset, but you never know how a team will respond on that kind of stage on the road. I will go with Syracuse 63, LA Tech 61 because while I think Tech will play well, but the style of play and Syracuse's rebounding edge will be very difficult to overcome.