Sean Farrell of the fabulous SB Nation Syracuse site, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, contacted me about the possibility of a Q&A about the women's NCAA Tournament game tonight in Lexington featuring the Syracuse Orange and the Kentucky Wildcats. I was honored to accept, and here you have Sean's answers to my questions.
Over at TNIAAM, you can find my answers to his questions. Enjoy.
1. What is Syracuse about as a team, and who should we fear?
Before Saturday, Syracuse had never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. EVER. The Orange will be without leading scoring Brittney Sykes, who injured her knee in the first round. What I'm getting to is that Syracuse is playing with house money, at this point.
The Orange uses a 2-3 zone defense, very much modeled after Jim Boeheim's. They also use a fullcourt press, which has allowed them to become the ACC's best team in turnover margin. They have three capable point guards who don't make a lot of mistakes. Without Sykes in the lineup, Brianna Butler is the main threat. She's a shooter and, like most, she's hot and cold. If she's on, we may have an interesting game. If she's off, this will be a blowout. The Sykes injury is that crippling.
2. Syracuse seems to have a bit of size. What kind of big players do you have, and what is their best quality?
Syracuse plays a guard-heavy offense, but has three forwards/centers who are a major part of coach Quentin Hillsman's rotation. The most important thing to know is that Syracuse lost now-WNBA center Kayla Alexander to graduation. If you look at the team records, Alexander is at the top or near the top in almost all of them. Shakeya Leary and Briana Day have done an admirable job at filling that void. Leary has a large frame, but relies on a finesse game and good footwork. Day isn't as muscular, but runs well for a center.
Taylor Ford can do a little bit of everything. She won't change the game, but can be a playmaker in a limited role. The best quality for this trio is the interior defense. Leary and Day are both in the top ten in the ACC in blocked shots. Syracuse also excels at collapsing the back line of the zone to cause havoc in the middle.
3. Syracuse likes to zone, but what do they do when an opponent shoots well from the perimeter? How does the zone affect defensive rebounding?
Alas, you've found the Achilles heel in our master plan! The three-point shot has always been the weakness of the zone. Last year, Syracuse was eliminated in tournament by a sharpshooting Creighton team that hit 11 shots from behind-the-arc. Syracuse is also susceptible to getting beat on the boards, especially when facing a bigger lineup. The Orange ranked 13th out of 15 ACC teams in defensive rebounding. Part of this is because of the loss of Kayla Alexander, as I mentioned early.
The tricky part becomes how to solve the issue – it's essentially a catch-22. If you expand the zone outward to the perimeter, the center is going to be left alone under the basket. If you collapse the zone inward, the shooters will get wide open looks on the outside. If Jim Boeheim hasn't come up with a solution in three decades, I don't think I'm going to find it in one paragraph. It really depends on who Syracuse is facing and what aspect do you want to stop more.
4. What is your favorite thing about this Syracuse team? Why?
As cliche as it sounds, they have great chemistry. Hillsman uses a lot of players and they all accept their roles. There's definitely a team-first mentality. For example, SU rotates between three point guards. Each one adds a slightly different wrinkle to the team. To my knowledge, I don't know of any time this season when someone was complaining about playing time.
5. Who do you think will win, and why? Predict the final score.
Without Brittney Sykes, I don't see how Syracuse can keep up with Kentucky's efficiency on offense. SU will try to slow the game down, but that can only do so much.
I'll take Kentucky in a 72-54 win.