San Jose, CA (Sports Network) - As they celebrate the 10-year anniversary of
their last national championship, the fourth-seed Syracuse Orange will battle
the Big Sky Conference champion Montana Grizzlies in the second round of the
NCAA Tournament's East Region at HP Pavilion on Thursday night.
The Grizzlies had a stranglehold on the Big Sky all season save for the thorn
in their side that was Weber State. However the Grizzlies vanquished the
Wildcats, 67-64, in Saturday's conference championship game to take the league
once and for all and earn their second straight appearance in the NCAA
Tournament. The Grizzlies were taken out in the second round last season and
have just two wins all-time in the Big Dance. At 25-6 and with wins in six-
straight contests, Montana is not a team to be overlooked.
It was 10 years ago that freshman Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara led
Syracuse to the 2003 National Championship game where they took down Kansas
81-78 thanks to a block from Hakim Warrick in the final seconds. Syracuse has
made four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus in
2007 and 2008. This season the Orange were considered a team in the running
for a No. 1 seed but they had losses in four of their last five regular-season
games before making a run to the Big East Tournament title game.
Prior to Wednesday's matchup these teams had never faced off on the hardwood.
Whichever wins their first meeting will get the chance to face either fifth-
seed UNLV or 12th-seed California in the third round.
Though it had its lead cut to just two points twice in the final 20 seconds,
Montana held off Weber State to collect the Big Sky Tournament title. It was a
tight battle between the two rivals with just three instances where the teams
were separated by more than five points.
Kareem Jamar (14.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.1 apg) and Will Cherry (13.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg,
4.1 apg) do just about everything for the Grizzlies. The backcourt tandem was
at it again versus Weber State as they combined for 39 points, eight assists
and eight rebounds in the winning effort. Montana managed to survive its Big
Sky schedule after leading scorer Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg) went down with an
injured foot in mid-February but it remains to be seen how it will fare
against elevated competition. If they are to win, the Grizzlies will need to
keep up their strong efforts on the offensive end where they score 71.1 points
per game and net 47.4 percent from the field.
After an emotional win over long-time rival Georgetown in the semifinals,
Syracuse's last taste of the Big East wasn't a good one as it was stung,
78-61, by Louisville. The Orange had a 16-point lead in the second half but it
was erased quickly by the Cardinals who hit 53.3 percent from the field in the
period, while the Orange cooled to 33.3 percent while registering just six
Despite that bump in the road Syracuse has been a very strong defensive team
this season holding foes to just 60.1 points per game on 37.7 percent
shooting. Each of those marks is among the 30 best in the country. However the
Orange have shown an inability to consistently get points on the board
recently. C.J. Fair (14.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is the most consistent scorer for the
Orange and with his length creates matchup problems for opposing squads.
Michael Carter-Williams (12.0 ppg, 7.7 apg, 2.7 spg) is feisty on both ends
but he isn't a strong shooter. Brandon Triche (13.8 ppg) has also been erratic
offensively down the stretch. Meanwhile James Southerland (13.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
has had the hot hand, especially from long range, as he proved in the Big East
Tournament when he hit an event record 19 triples.
The Sports Network