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The Times
  • COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Syracuse, seeded fourth, will meet Montana

  • MARCH 17 COLLEGE BASKETBALL Fresh from a solid run in the Big East tournament, Syracuse will start the final leg of its season where it began — on the West Coast. The 19th-ranked Orange (26-9) earned the fourth seed in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament...
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  • Fresh from a solid run in the Big East tournament, Syracuse will start the final leg of its season where it began — on the West Coast.
    The 19th-ranked Orange (26-9) earned the fourth seed in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament, and they expect to fly out on Monday to prepare for a second-round game against 13th-seeded Montana (25-6) in San Jose, Calif. on Thursday. It will be the first meeting between the teams, and the winner will play either fifth-seeded UNLV (25-9) or 12th-seeded California (20-11) on Saturday.
    Syracuse began the season ranked No. 9 and blew past No. 20 San Diego State 62-49 on the flight deck of the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Midway on a sunny, windy Sunday afternoon in November.
    In hindsight, that might have been a good thing.
    "I think it may be easier for us," senior guard Brandon Triche said. "A five-hour plane ride is a little bit hard, but we're battle-tested. I think we did a great job playing on the boat. I guess you do have to adjust a little bit. The biggest thing for us is to go down there early. It makes it a lot easier."
    In their final Big East appearance at New York's Madison Square Garden before heading to the ACC next season, the Orange put their awful performance during the stretch run of the regular season behind them. Syracuse beat Seton Hall 75-63, edged Pittsburgh 62-59, and stopped Georgetown 58-55 in overtime before falling to Louisville in the title game on Saturday night.
    That did a lot for the team's collective psyche after closing the regular season with four losses in the last five games, including two to Georgetown (25-6), the second seed in the South.
    "The way we played in New York, we were able to go down there and beat Pittsburgh and Georgetown, a team that beat us twice," said coach Jim Boeheim, who has 48 tournament wins, fifth all-time and one behind former UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "I think we're playing at a lot higher level. Louisville is the No. 1 seed in the tournament and we had a substantial lead in the second half, so we know we're playing better.
    "When you play like we played in New York, I absolutely believe we will (play well in the NCAA tournament)."
    The Orange's Big East farewell against Louisville was happy at halftime and not so happy at the end. Syracuse wilted against Louisville's relentless pressure defense and squandered a 16-point advantage in the second half, losing 78-61. It was by far the biggest collapse in title game history at the Big East tournament, which began in 1980.
    Still, the conference tournament provided a nice springboard. Syracuse shot 50 percent from beyond the arc, hitting 37 of 74 shots. Senior forward James Southerland had a Big East tournament-record 19 three-pointers in the four games as he emerged from a long slump, redshirt freshman guard Trevor Cooney and junior forward C.J. Fair also contributed from the outside, and sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams had 36 assists, one shy of former Orange star Jonny Flynn's tournament record, set in 2009.
    Page 2 of 2 - "Playing at Madison Square Garden, it almost felt like a tournament game," Triche said. "As long as we stay together, we'll be fine. You have to take it one game at a time. You've got to worry about yourself. Once it's NCAA tournament time, there's no easy games. Anything can happen. You can pretty much lose any game."
    The Grizzlies beat Weber State 67-64 in the Big Sky championship on Saturday night to earn their second straight league tourney title and third in four years, and they have the type of attack that can frazzle Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense.
    Montana averages nearly seven three-pointers per game and is shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Grizzlies are led by Jordan Gregory and Mike Weisner, who have combined to make 80 of 177 attempts from behind the arc. That's why some prognosticators already have tagged the Orange as a potential upset victim.
    "Everyone has their own opinion," Southerland said. "We're just going to
    go out there and do what we do."
    A year ago, Syracuse was a No. 1 seed and fell one step short of the Final Four, losing in the final of the East Regional to Ohio State (77-70) after triumphs over UNC Asheville (72-65), Kansas State (75-59), and Wisconsin (64-63).
    "We want to get ready and we want to win, no matter if we're a No. 1 (seed), a four, a five, a six. It doesn't matter," Boeheim said. "We feel that when you go out to play, we think we can win the game we're going play, whatever game it is.
    "Without that attitude, you wouldn't beat Pittsburgh and Georgetown in New York. Pressure doesn't matter. We want to win games."
     
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