Editor’s note: This is an article written by Syracuse, New York native and Arizona State alum Matt Bodmer.
“Who are you rooting for on Wednesday?”
If we have ever met, chances are I’ve already gotten the question from you. Born in Syracuse, less than two miles from the Carrier Dome, Syracuse University athletics was my first and only sports team. When my family relocated to Phoenix, the Orange were right behind us, playing in the Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in 1997, the Insight Bowl at Bank One Ballpark in 2001 and later the Phoenix NCAA regionals against Alabama in 2004.
When I decided to stay home for school and attend Arizona State University in 2009, friends and family immediately asked “what if they meet in the tournament, who would you root for?”
Pointless question, one school plays in the Pac-10, the other plays in the Big East. They have never met in the past! My freshman year was greeted with a second round matchup between the Orange of my youth, and the school I decided I was going to a year ago. I went with the Devils to not be another Arizona sports fan stereotype, and it was the worst sports experience of my life.
This Syracuse team is not that 2009 team. There is no Andy Rautins coming off the bench (or anyone for that matter). There is no emotional heartbeat like Eric Devendorf. This team is a testament to Jim Boeheim being one of the best coaches the game has ever seen, and a warrior performance by Tyus Battle, playing virtually every minute down the stretch to will this Syracuse team to an unlikely bid.
TL;DR, here is a guide to beating Syracuse from a Syracuse die-hard who went to Arizona State:
1. Pressure Frank Howard early and often. An easily-frustrated and below average ball-handler, Howard struggles against pressure defense. In the ACC tournament, UNC didn’t let him breathe all game and he was visually upset by the pressure en route to a seven turnover, 4-for-18 shooting performance. Remy Martin is Howard’s worst nightmare.
2. Mickey Mitchell must step up. ASU has struggled against the zone this season, and they go against the best zone coach there is on Wednesday. Mitchell’s performance against Boeheim disciple Mike Hopkins earlier this season simply won’t cut it. Mitchell missed his only attempt in 22 minutes against the Huskies with 4 turnovers. The soft spot in the middle of Syracuse’s 2-3 is the way to beat it. Mitchell needs to get the ball and make quick confident decisions. Make a few shots there and opportunities will open for the three-point shooters.
3. Keep a fast tempo. It should be obvious for a team dubbed Guard U, but tempo will be especially crucial in this matchup. Despite having a few days off with an early ACC tournament, this is a team with zero depth that has logged serious minutes. Howard and Battle are the only guards, logging 39 or 40 minutes in every game since Jan. 27. The only players off the bench are inexperienced Matthew Moyer and Bourama Sidibe, who is nursing a knee injury. Keep the tempo and press early and often, and Syracuse can be put away early. The offense simply isn’t there to allow a team like ASU to get an early lead.
4. Don’t Force the 3. When ASU and SU last met in the tournament, ASU attempted 35 3’s opposed to its 14 2’s. Teams that establish the middle of the zone and the post first can have field days from 3. If you go in with the 3-point mindset, you play right into Syracuse’s hands.
ASU is a far more talented team, and this is a very beatable Syracuse team. Regardless, you have to think the winner of this game will go on quite the run.