(1) VITAL SCHEMATICS: Since YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles vanquished the Orange on February 25, Syracuse has gone 7-3, ending the regular season with a close loss to Louisville, a win over DePaul, and a 39-point abomination against Georgetown. The Cuse has righted the ship since then, though, beating Seton Hall, Pitt, and getting revenge against Georgetown in the Big East Tournament before a disastrous showing in the BET Championship game, where the Orange managed to turn a 16-point, second-half lead into an 17-point defeat.
In the Dance, Syracuse seal-clubbed an overmatched and undermanned Montana team by 50, nipped Cal in what amounted to a home game for the 12th-seeded Golden Bears (good effort there, Committee), and then exposed all of Tom Crean's warts for the world to see in a dominating 61-50 win over the Hoosiers. If it wasn't for that catastrophe against UofL, you'd say without reservation that Syracuse is playing its best ball at the most important time of year.
(2) PRIMARY WEAPON: LENGTH-O-RAMA (damage rating: 9.0 out of 10): Every year, Syracuse seems to have somewhere between 4 and 29 ultra-athletic string beans who stand between 6'6" and 6'10". This year is no exception: there's CJ Fair, who's like a rich man's Stacey Augmon; there's James Southerland, who's got absurd range for a guy who stands 6'8"; there's Michael Carter-Williams, who looks like the second coming of Penny Hardaway (if Penny made three or four bone-chillingly terrible decisions per game). And there's Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita and, oh yeah, Brandon Triche, who just might be the most important player out of the lot.
The only downside to all that talent? The game is played with just one basketball. And sometimes, it looks like the Cuse can't figure out how to most efficiently use all its weapons. There is no reason whatsoever that a team with MCW and Triche and Fair and Southerland should score less than 55 points in a game, but that's exactly what happened three times in the last month (in the two losses to Georgetown and vs. Louisville).
(3) DEFENSIVE MATRIX: (armor rating: 9.5 out of 10): Alright: it's a lazy defense, it's a waste of talent, and it doesn't do anything to prepare all those marvelous athletes for the next level, but at the same time, Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone is effective as hell, especially this year. The Orange's adjusted defensive efficiency is a staggering 86.9 (meaning they surrender just 0.87 points per possession), good for ninth in the country in KenPom's rankings. They're first in the nation in block percentage (19.2%, which is more than double the D-1 average of 9.3%), seventh in the nation in steal percentage (13.7%), and because their absurd length allows them to contest virtually every shot, their eFG% defense is a preposterous 42.9%. And as we saw during the first go-round in February, if Marquette gets into the habit of swinging the ball around the perimeter and barfing up 27-footers as the shot clock is about to expire, the Cuse zone could spell doom for MU.
(4) EXPLOITABLE WEAKNESS(ES): If you're looking for a bright side with Syracuse's excellent defense, I guess it's the fact that they're awesome at defending the 3-point line (28.7%), but Marquette doesn't shoot many threes, so that part is kind of a wash. Toss in the fact that, unlike his predecessor, Buzz Williams doesn't look like a man who just walked in on a velociraptor boxing a unicorn when he's confronted with a 2-3 zone, and that Marquette has won three of the last four matchups with the Orange, and that Michael Carter-Williams is usually good for two "LOL WUT" plays a game ...
Also it's March and they're Syracuse.