The Kansas Jayhawks face their stiffest competition since playing Kentucky in the Champions Classic when they travel to Miami to face the Syracuse Orange Saturday in the HoopHall Miami Invitational. To help prepare us for what we are likely to see, I touched base with James Szuba over at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, the SB Nation site dedicated to covering Syracuse. He was kind enough to answer a few questions.
RCT: Syracuse was picked 10th in the ACC this year, which honestly shocked me when I looked it up. What are expectations like for this season amongst the fans?
TNIAAM: Syracuse lost a ton from last season including grad transfers Andrew White and John Gillon, seniors Dajuan Coleman and Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon to the NBA Draft. Given the turnover and many new faces, it's sort of been expected that we'll be on the bubble for a third straight season. We knew Tyus Battle would have a chance to shine and nobody doubted his ability to deliver. Frank Howard is the lone holdover from the 2016 Final Four squad and he's been instrumental to our 6-0 start. I think the realistic expectation is to just hopefully make the tournament this year and see what happens. Reinforcements are on the way in the form of our 2018 recruiting class.
RCT: The Orange lost 4 starters from last year's squad. Who has stepped us so far to fill that void?
TNIAAM: Tyus, first and foremost. He's an absolute bucket getter who can score from all three levels. He gets after it defensive to boot, there aren't many holes in his game. Frank has stepped up big this year and looks to be the vocal leader of this team. It starts with those two guys at the top of the 2-3 zone and on offense. Behind them, Oshae Brissett has been a double-double machine as the best recruit out of Canada and we've unveiled a hidden gem in Marek Dolezaj from Slovakia. It's an overused cliche, but he gives 110% and looks like he weighs about equal to his effort level. Besides that, our centers have done a nice job anchoring the middle of the zone.
RCT: Obviously Syracuse is famous for their zone defense, but this Kansas offense has tons of good outside shooters this year. How well do you expect the zone to hold up in the game?
TNIAAM: Not at all, and that's more so a compliment to your execution and shot-making ability. We're better this year defensively and looking like a traditional Syracuse team with length, but our young guys haven't seen anything like Kansas. I've watched every Kansas game this season sans South Dakota State and Toledo (only caught a few plays and highlights) and I'm super impressed. I think Graham should have no problem carving up the zone -- the guy has the ball on a string and passes the ball on a frozen rope! Svi and Vick should be able to get open looks with Newman in the mix and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the sort of game where Marcus Garrett gets going. You guys can throw Svi or Vick in the high post and we'll have to come up and play the jumper, which should give 'Dok some open dump downs. Pick your poison, I suppose.
RCT: Which matchups are going to be key to the outcome of the game?
TNIAAM: Well, we'll be in a zone for 40 minutes unless Boeheim decides to mix in some press, but I'll say 'Dok is the biggest key. He can't get in foul trouble and we've been crashing the glass incredibly well thus far, even in zone. Lightfoot might be able to give serviceable minutes in there but he's not someone I'd want playing for extended periods of time. I think this comes down to two contrasting styles of play: Syracuse's ability to score in the paint and Kansas's ability to hit from outside.
RCT: Prediction Time! Syracuse is undefeated against Kansas in tournament finals (1996 West Regional Final, 2003 National Final, 2008 CBE Classic Final). Does that trend hold, or does Kansas finally break through in tournament play?
TNIAAM: Haha - well done. Kansas will buck the trend in this one. I just think you guys are too good and too mature to lose a game like this barring a ridiculous offensive outburst from one (or two) of our guys. Kansas 82 - Syracuse 68
RCT: BONUS - Megaman or Pac-Man?
TNIAAM: Megaman 8 all day. With flash bomb.
A big thanks to James for helping us out today. Don't forget to check out the questions I answered for him over at TNIAAM.