Syracuse falls into a peculiar spot, not as a prohibitive favorite, nor as an also-ran. The Orange has gone through its seemingly annual Lose a Key Player for a Lengthy Amount of Time episode when James Southerland sat, and emerged still as a reasonable contender.
With Southerland, C.J. Fair and Brandon Triche putting in baskets and Michael Carter-Williams dishing to them, the Orange’s fate hinges on what the big men – Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita and a returned Dajuan Coleman – do inside. If they can effectively anchor the 2-3 zone and get boards, SU has a real chance to reach Atlanta.
Add to all this the rising noise of debate about the quality of the game. Every time there’s a big game, college basketball itself undergoes some sort of trial, and woe to those who score under 50 in a 40-minute contest.
For some, it’s even worse. Northern Illinois scored four points in a half. Georgetown couldn’t get to 40 against Tennessee – and still won, prompting a John Thompson III apology (really) for the display.
It goes beyond points, though. Due to advanced scouting and coaching techniques, defenses are better, and the game is way more physical because guys know that officials won’t whistle everything. At the end of games, coaches love to use those time-outs, whether they really help or not.
Above it all is, of course, the early exodus of the best players to the NBA, a charade set up by the association’s 19-year-old rule, preventing guys from going straight from high school to the pros. Even if it’s a tiny fraction of all the college players, the perception is that the game is worse, and you know the deal about perception turning into reality, even if not initially true.
Since March is the time when college hoops draws the attention far beyond that of the aficionado, bad games at this time of year (see the 2011 final and cringe, anyone other than UConn fans) will only increase the volume of criticism.