South Region: No. 2 Oklahoma (29-5) vs. No. 3 Syracuse (28-9)
When: Friday, 7:27 p.m., EDT
Where: FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee
1) So we meet again The last time Oklahoma and Syracuse met on the hardwood, it was in the East regional final of the 2003 NCAA tournament. The third-seeded Orange, led by this guy named Carmelo Anthony, beat 1-seed OU 63-47 en route to the National Championship. Syracuse's 2-3 zone drove the Sooners absolutely nuts, forcing All-American guard Hollis Price into one of the worst shooting performances of his career (3-17 from the field, eight points). As a team, the guard-oriented Sooners hit just 31 percent from the field and basically made Sooner fans want to jump into a volcano with their poor shooting. But this current OU team is a bit different. This time instead of an All-American guard, OU's got an All-American big man, so they won't be necessarily be relying entirely on outside jumpers to beat the zone. That 2003 team was counting on Johnny Gilbert and Kevin Bookout's one-inch vertical to get the job done on the inside. Yeeeah.
2) Syracuse has just offered a scholarship to Randy Couture Blake Griffin's first two box scores of the tourney are getting a lot of talk, as well as Ameer Ali's judo-flip of him in round one. But neither thing is really anything new for Griffin this season. That's (at least) the fourth cheap shot Griffin has been hit by this year (crotch shot, leg sweep, punch in the back of the head, about 200 bloody noses) and he's had 13 games where he's put up at least 20 points and 15 boards. Right now he's averaging 30.5 ppg and 15 rpg during the tournament. And Syracuse has had trouble with quality big men this year (Cole Aldrich had 15 and 16 against them and DeJuan Blair 20 and 12). Kristof Ongenaet better start working on his Stone Cold Stunner.
3) Going downtown, like the Petula Clark song Coming in to the tournament, the Sooners had been in a bit of a slump and a lot of the reason for that was poor outside shooting. Teams were packing the paint to handle Griffin and the OU guards weren't hitting from three. But against Michigan, some of that sweet outside shooting that helped bump the Sooners to the top five for most of the year returned. Austin Johnson went 3-4 from downtown and Willie Warren went 3-6 as the team hit six moneyballs total. In OU's previous two losses, the Sooners hit a total of seven threes with Johnson going 2-9 from three and Warren 3-12. And as we all know, three-point shooting and guard play is going to kind of be a key for OU against Syracuse. No sign from Tony Crocker though who is 0-6 from three so far in the tournament. — Royce Young (Daily Thunder)
1) Devolutionary War When he's not busy creating new strains of cancer and enslaving small African nations, Eric Devendrof plays basketball for Syracuse University. Okay, maybe he doesn't actually do those things but you'd never know it from the vitriolic reaction his name inspires. From The Big Lead to Slate to Sports Illustrated, Devendorf has been named the most hated player in college basketball. Aside from the alleged punching incident earlier this year (which, for what's it worth, he was cleared of actually doing), it's his trash-talking, cockiness and post-shot celebrations that usually set people off. Unfortunately for them, since he continues to hit big shots when it matters most, they're only going to get angrier.
2) Big 12 Champs The last time Syracuse played Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament was 2003 when the Orange defeated the Sooners 63-47 in the Elite 8, en route to their first and only National Title. Oklahoma was just one of four Big 12 teams that Syracuse played in the tournament that year, including Oklahoma State in the 2nd round, Texas in the Final Four and Kansas in the Championship game. The Orange have yet to receive their 2003 Big 12 Champions banner.
3) Walking In Memphis...Again It might come as a surprise to some to know that the Orange actually left the state of New York in November and December this season. The big knock against SU is always their soft OOC schedule and that's what many pointed to the last couple years when the Orange were on the wrong side of the bubble. This year the Orange logged some decent frequent flyer miles before conference play, beating Florida and Kansas in "neutral" Kansas City. They also traveled to Memphis to take on, and beat, the Tigers. At the time the win meant a lot to the Orange's RPI. Little did they know the experience of playing in the FedEx Forum would come in handy as well. — Sean (Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician)