Kansas State coach Frank Martin made a point Friday of talking about Syracuse’s size, specifically in its backcourt.
“They come at you with guards that are 6-foot-4 and 6-5,” Martin said. “They’re huge.”
Syracuse plays four guards — Scoop Jardine (6-2), Brandon Triche (6-4), Brandon Waiters (6-4) and James Southerland (6-8) — but their size could be deceiving because none of them average more than three rebounds. As a team, Syracuse has been weak on the boards — in Big East play they were outrebounded 38.1 to 34.3.
The Wildcats play five guards, and 6-4 junior Rodney McGruder is the top rebounder out of the bunch at 5.4 per game. Sophomore Shane Southwell is the biggest at 6-6, but has been largely ineffective this season although he still averages 17.3 minutes. Angel Rodriguez is 5-11, Martavious Irving is 6-1 and Will Spradling is 6-2.
“I know how big their guards are, and hopefully if I can get in and get in some sort of rhythm I can negate that a little bit,” Southwell said. “When they crash, they can cause some matchup problems.”
Jardine, a redshirt senior who runs the point, seemed most likely to be matched up with Rodriguez, a freshman playing in his second NCAA Tournament game. Jardine is playing in the tournament for a third time.
Syracuse is most dangerous when it’s forcing turnovers — the Orange lead the nation with 9.4 steals.
“(Rodriguez) is a talented player, it’s on us to put pressure on him,” Jardine said. “If he makes mistakes, if he turns the ball over that’s on him.”
It was easy for Kansas State players to compare Syracuse to a team from the Big 12. When they watch the Orange play, they see Baylor.
The Bears and Orange both use a zone defense and rely on athleticism to make plays. After facing Baylor three times this season, going 1-2, the Wildcats are confident in their chances.
“We killed their zone,” guard Shane Southwell said. “We run a lot of good sets against zones. We’re pretty much trying to do the same thing against Syracuse. They play the exact same zone.”
The only difference is that Baylor sometimes switches to man-to-man. Syracuse sticks to its zone no matter what. In its wins over K-State, Baylor used a smaller lineup and man defense to get stops and pull away.
Without Fab Melo, K-State players think Syracuse will get up and down the court faster than usual. So they are preparing for multiple looks.
“They’re not as long as Baylor, but they’re pretty much the same size,” Samuels said. “It helps us a lot.”
Spradling hasn’t made a three-pointer in his past two games and has been struggling as a shooter all season.
He hasn’t scored in double figures since early February, and is searching for consistency. Today would be a good time for him to bust out of his slump. Nothing hurts zone defenses more than three-pointers.
Spradling said he would try to find a gym and practice his shot Friday night.
“If I get one going in I feel like the next one is going to go in,” Spradling said. “(Yesterday) coaches were telling me to shoot it every time I’m open. (Today) they tell me I’m going to get a lot more open shots and not to be afraid to shoot it.”
— Kellis Robinett, Tony Adame