In advance of Thursday afternoon's NCAA Tournament game against the Western Michigan Broncos, Syracuse Orange players C.J. Fair and Baye Keita, along with head coach Jim Boeheim, were on hand to answer questions from the media. Allow us to bring you some highlights.
Fair and Keita were up first. When asked about the "real genius" of Boeheim that may be underestimated, the players focused on his competitive nature. According to Fair,
I think what's underestimated is Coach Boeheim, he loves to win. And he'll do whatever it takes to win, so he [doesn't] really have favorites as far as players -- it's whoever can help him get the win, that's who he's going to play.
Keita agreed, then added:
Sometimes [Boeheim] is going to get on the bad side of you, but he just wants you to get better, so I think he doesn't play favorites. He's just going to coach you and want you to get better.
Keita also talked about the difference between last year's point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, and Tyler Ennis:
I think as a player, they both have a plus and a minus. Mike was able to get a lot of steals; and Tyler, too, gets a lot of steals throughout the zone. [Tyler's] a really smart point guard…Every time he gets the ball, he knows exactly where he has to go, which has made a big difference compared to other point guards.
Later, I cringed when Fair was asked which team has a similar style to WMU that Syracuse has played this year, and he responded like this:
I might say Boston College, because they've got guards that can shoot from deep. And then they've got a good inside presence with a couple post players, so it keeps your defense honest. You've got to respect the three-point, and you've got to battle with them inside.
Come on, Ceej. That's not what we want to hear.
When it was Jim Boeheim's turn, he seemed to imply that the Orange is not sleeping on WMU. He noted that the Broncos have some really good players, and that the team is good enough to play with anyone in the country. But, he explained how the Orange has played tough games like this all season:
This (Syracuse) team has played tremendous basketball for us all year. But every game, with a few exceptions, has been a battle, so we're used to that. It's not like we had a lot of easy games along the way…
Then, he took a little jab at himself, and even got the room laughing with him when he continued:
We played at Virginia, at Duke; nobody else won [in those arenas] in the league, either. We played at Virginia without Jerami Grant. And we played at Duke, and it came down to one play that maybe went the wrong way. I think we've covered that play already.
As for how the Orange has been so successful thus far this season, Boeheim was really complimentary of Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, noting that his guards were going to determine how far this team could go:
I think Tyler's had a great year. Certainly going into the year with a new point guard, a new two-guard -- freshman (and) sophomore -- that would be a key to what we were going to be able to do. And those two guys have had great years in the backcourt, defensively and offensively. We knew the front line guys would be fine.
Later, Boeheim deadpanned this gem after he was asked what he thinks about Ennis, specifically, as a freshman heading into the Tournament:
I don't really think about Tyler Ennis, to tell you the truth. He'll be fine…He listens to me. I like that.
The came questions about the upcoming game. In case you didn't know, Western Michigan plays in the same conference as Eastern Michigan, which is coached by former Syracuse assistant, Rob Murphy. Murphy employs the same zone defense at EMU that he learned during his time with the Orange. This means that WMU has already seen a very similar 2-3 zone, which isn't usually the case for Syracuse's postseason opponents. When asked whether that will affect how Syracuse prepares for the game, here's what Boeheim had to say:
We see how everyone attacks a 2-3 zone. There's nobody we've played this year that hasn't played against a 2-3 zone. We see everybody -- what they try to do -- and most people do similar things, but everybody plays against a 2-3 zone.
Next, and you can file this under the "Surprise, Surprise" category, there was a backhanded retirement question. When a member of the media asked Boeheim what he thought about the potential to win 1,000 games if he's "around a couple years from now..." he laughed, and responded:
Well, I definitely don't think about it. I think, once you get to 800, the number's pretty big -- they mean something -- 900 means a little bit more…
I don't know, what am I gonna say? As I've told the story before, when you had about 100, you looked at 874, or whatever the number (of most wins) was, and you said, 'Well that's not happening. That's 20 wins a year for 40 years to get to 800.' So it's just not something you think is gonna happen some day.
Finally, in case you were starting to wonder, there was some ACC trolling. When asked about his first season in the new conference, our fearless leader smirked and said:
Well, the restaurants were pretty good, which surprised me. They were really pretty good.
Never change, Jimmy B.