Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 55, #3 Michigan State 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse was all smiles after pulling off the upset. (Paul Sancya | The Associated Press)

  1. Syracuse mucked this game up to perfection. In order for Syracuse to win this game, it was going to have to slow down the pace, force Michigan State to run its half-court sets, and hope the Spartans missed shots from behind the arc. And that’s exactly what happened. The Big Ten champs were completely flummoxed by Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, unable to exploit gaps inside and unconfident from the perimeter. Were it not for a few difficult made threes immediately before and after halftime, in fact, Michigan State’s final box score would have looked even uglier — which is remarkable when you consider that the Spartans finished 8-of-37 from three-point range. Despite getting hammered on the glass, Syracuse’s length inside was too much for big men like Nick Ward (10 points) and Jaren Jackson (two points). Even when Michigan State began passing out of the high post with Ben Carter — its best interior passer — the team’s go-to shooters like Josh Langford simply couldn’t hit. Afterward, Tom Izzo put it simply: “I thought we’d have a little easier time getting it in the middle.”
  2. Michigan State’s offense was atrocious. And it’s not a complete surprise. Michigan State boasted the ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball entering Sunday, largely the product of excellent outside shooting and a great running game. But there were times this season — Michigan, Rutgers, and others — in which the Spartans looked rhythmless and inept in the half-court. That issue reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Against an opponent built to slow teams down, Michigan State wasted far too much shot clock dribbling and handing-off instead of running clear offensive sets. When the pick-and-roll didn’t work — and it generally did not — Cassius Winston (4-of-12) and the Spartan guards were apt to either force a bad shot or hope Miles Bridges (4-of-18) could make something out of nothing. Following Michigan State’s home loss to Michigan on January 13 — a game in which it struggled mightily from the field — Izzo noted, “we have to do some soul-searching.” If Sunday’s performance was any indication, it’s clear that the Spartans never found their soul — at least not offensively.
  3. Jim Boeheim’s system works, no matter what you feel about it. There’s been plenty of chatter this weekend about whether Tony Bennett’s ‘system’ will ever result in March success for Virginia. Meanwhile, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense — very much a system in its own right — has enabled the offensively-limited Orange to make yet another deep run. For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse is finding the perfect level of cohesion at exactly the right time with an extremely shallow roster (351st nationally in bench minutes). How? Opponents facing Boeheim’s team for the first time simply don’t know how to breach that zone, especially with Syracuse’s length all over the court. The 73-year-old’s success should give those doubting Bennett a moment of pause.

Star of the Game. Tyus Battle, Syracuse. Though Battle shot just 4-of-15 from the field today, his second-half performance was nothing short of outstanding. The sophomore wing scored 16 of his 17 points in the final 20 minutes, including several momentum-squashing buckets and a clutch jumper with 49 seconds left that proved to be the dagger. In a game that featured some of the worst offense you’ll ever see, Battle’s effort was especially noteworthy.

Quotable.

  • “We just wanted to keep the ball out of the high post… Our length up top is tough for people.” – Syracuse guard Frank Howard, on his team’s bread and butter.
  • “The hardest and luckiest bank I’ve seen in my entire life.” – Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, on Matt McQuaid’s ridiculous buzzer-beater to end the first half.
  • “We don’t have any depth or rotations. It’s easy to coach.” – Boeheim, speaking about his limited roster.
  • “I have no regrets. I just wish we would’ve shot it a little better.” – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, on his team’s heartbreaking loss and dreadful shooting performance.

Sights and Sounds. Toward the end of a teary-eyed postgame press conference, Tom Izzo had a moment of emotional candor we’ve come to expect from the Hall of Fame coach. “I love every one of these kids…. I don’t give coachspeak. I give heartspeak. And from the bottom of my heart that’s how I feel about them,” the Michigan State coach said, his voice cracking during the last sentence. March can be painful, and the effects of this particular loss was palpable with Izzo.

What’s Next. Syracuse will take on #2 Duke on Friday night in Omaha. In their only meeting this season, the Orange mustered just 0.69 points per possession in a 60-44 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Tommy Lemoine (249 Posts)


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