Andy Behrens, Pete Thamel, and Preston Johnson break down the upcoming Sweet 16 matchup between the Houston Cougars and the Syracuse Orange.
ANDY BEHRENS: Before we get started, bet $10 on any game in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 and get $160 in free bets. Use the promo code SPORTSBOOK or go to betmgm.com/yahoospecial today.
We've got Syracuse, an 11 seed, running this double Boeheim system that they've got going there, flummoxing everyone with a super active zone defense. Feels like a small miracle every time anybody makes an entry pass against that thing. And then we have Houston, a two seed that just got past Rutgers barely. Can anything stop the mighty Syracuse zone right now?
PETE THAMEL: Well, my freshman year of college, Andy, to give you a little history lesson, was 1995-1996. That was year Syracuse went to the Final Four with John Wallace, Otis Hill, Jason Cipolla, Lazarus Sims. And it was really the year that Syracuse's zone burst into the mainstream. And from that point on, Boeheim pretty much played exclusively zone. So in the-- gulp-- 25 years or so since--
ANDY BEHRENS: [LAUGHS]
PETE THAMEL: --I have seen a lot of teams fall in the sinkhole of the Syracuse zone in the NCAA tournament. None have fallen worse than Kelvin Sampson's 2003 Oklahoma team. Hollis Price, Quannas White, you remember them. They were one of the best teams in college basketball that year. I think they ended that game 4-23 from 3. Syracuse beat them by 20. Now the game was in Albany which Kelvin Sampson has brought up many times when that game has been preference over the years. It was not the most fair advantage and it was on the quick turn, which is when that zone is especially lethal.
But, all that being said, I've seen enough Syracuse in the postseason to know the zone is more of an energy than a strategy. That can be a program that lapses into laissez faire moments. In the postseason when it's all on the line and that zone is energized it's extremely difficult to face, because of the length, because of the activity, and because the unfamiliarity. That's a long way to say where it's going to be hard for me to pick this Houston team against Syracuse at this point, especially if Houston's getting six.
The thing our viewers really need to pay close attention to here is the hip pointer of Dejon Jarreau, who's Houston's best player, sometimes sixth man. He was literally hobbling around on the court at the end of that Rutgers game. I really think he's the only surefire NBA prospect on that Houston roster and he's the highest-end talent. You want to be watching Dejon Jarreau in, like, the warm ups. They used to have open practices. They don't have those anymore because nothing's open. He is going to be a huge swing in this game because he's the kind of guy that can match Syracuse's length. He can hit shots over the zone. He's a playmaker. He'd likely be the guy who flashes the high post. West Virginia's guys who flashed the high post had about my skill level. It didn't help very much.
ANDY BEHRENS: [LAUGHS]
Preston, Houston is seventh in offensive efficiency, 11th in defensive efficiency. They're really good. They're favored by six here. The total is 140 at BetMGM but we obviously have a major injury issue. What looks good to you here, if anything?
PRESTON JOHNSON: Can I just start with, as a basketball fan it absolutely boggles my mind that they can't figure out the 2-3 zone still after all these years. And even when they do get the entry pass-- and Pete was alluding to it there right at the end-- and Culver would have it, they have these wide open seven-foot floaters or little jump shots and they never take them. They put their head down, they drive, and try to go right into the rim protection. Or they try to make another pass which just gets deflected because Syracuse is so long with the zone defense. Or they just chuck a 3, which is just tough to make 3's against this zone because they are so long and they're so quick and so, just, sound in the way that they approach it.
So, I don't know why the seven-footer is a lost art now in this match-up. I think Houston might have guys like-- Culvert didn't even play that second half. When you saw West Virginia make that run, it's because he was sitting for the majority of it and they just went with an offense that maybe had a better chance and they weren't as good defensively. Boeheim went crazy, Buddy was on fire.
I don't know what to do with this game. I think it's the one out of all eight of these matchups that I just have to completely pass. It opened at seven, it's down to six. That's probably the right move considering Syracuse, the zone, and all of that, but also the injury concerns for Houston. I'm just going to stay away. It's one of those things like you said. Like, watch him and warm up, see how he looks. You can also wait and watch him the beginning of the game and, you know, you can bet live or in-game or wait for a second half or something. So they're to be plenty of opportunities the rest of the tournament. I'm not forcing it here. Just going to enjoy the game.
PETE THAMEL: It's like a knuckle ball pitcher, Andy. Like, you know, you could get a brilliant outing. But also, like, Syracuse was defiantly mediocre for most of the season. As they have been really for the last six seasons. So I think that's really good instincts by Preston. If you have conviction on this game, you probably-- you probably have orange clothes in your closet.