Many analysts felt that Syracuse was fortunate to even make the NCAA Tournament. Now that the Orange are in the Final Four, however, some are picking them to win the national title.
Scott Gleeson is one of those analysts.
“Well, I think when you look at the four teams that are going to Houston, I don’t see there being a completely dominant team,” the USA Today college basketball writer said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “As great as North Carolina is, I think they’re beatable. I think (Syracuse has) evolved and blossomed and developed into the team that they were meant to be here in this tournament. A lot of times we see teams peaking going into the dance. Syracuse was not peaking at all. They looked terrible. They barely got in (the tournament). It just kind of goes to show you that the tournament is all about game-to-game momentum and playing with the right fire and drive. That’s the thing that jumps out to me with Syracuse. You can point out all the X’s and O’s all you want, but they have this moxie and this drive that you see in every title team every year. We saw it with UConn when we didn’t expect them to win, and we’re seeing it with Syracuse now.”
Indeed, seniors Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije, junior Tyler Roberson and freshman Malachi Richardson have led No. 10 Syracuse during its magical run. Yes, the Orange were fortunate to avoid Michigan State in the Round of 32, but they have still beaten quality teams to get to Houston.
“I think you have to consider that they clobbered Dayton,” Gleeson said of Syracuse’s 70-51 opening-round win. “Dayton was a really good team. A lot of people picked Dayton, and Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State. Regardless of how you look at Middle Tennessee as a mid-major, (Syracuse) knocked them out by 25 points. So that’s impressive how they beat those teams right there. And then on top of that, I think Gonzaga was playing like a 3- or a 4-seed. They barely got into the tournament themselves, but (Domantas) Sabonis and (Kyle) Wiltjer are two incredible players. That was not a typical 11-seed, so I don’t think you can examine it that way. And then look, Virginia was a 1-seed. They were fantastic. So when you’re examining how these teams got there, I would argue that they have one of the toughest roads to get there.”
Syracuse trailed Gonzaga 57-48 late in the second half but closed the game on a 15-3 run. Similarly, the Orange trailed Virginia 54-39 in the second half before going on a 25-4 run and winning, 68-62.
“Syracuse turned it up and completely changed the game,” Gleeson said. “If they’re down by 15 in the Final Four, I would still be sweating if I’m Roy Williams because Syracuse has the ability to come back.”