Tonight's game

Ncaa Tournament

April 07, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht

Tonight's game

What: NCAA championship game.

Site: Superdome, New Orleans.

Time: 9:22.

TV: Chs. 13, 9.

Line: Kansas by 5.

The teams

Kansas: West Regional champion, No. 2 seed, 30-7; crushed third-seeded Marquette, 94-61, in Saturday's national semifinals.

Syracuse: East Regional champion, No. 3 seed, 29-5; beat top-seeded Texas, 95-84, in Saturday's semifinals.

Backcourts

Kansas: Senior Kirk Hinrich, the West Regional Most Valuable Player, is averaging 17.4 points and coming off an 18-point game that featured a fine defensive effort against Marquette star Dwyane Wade. He will draw another bigger assignment in 6-foot-6 Syracuse senior Kueth Duany, who had a poor outing against Texas. Sophomore point guard Aaron Miles, averaging 12 points and six assists in his past four games, is leading the offense in his second Final Four.

Syracuse: Freshman point guard Gerry McNamara doesn't get the publicity afforded to Carmelo Anthony, but the 6-2 McNamara will be equally critical to the Orangemen's success tonight. McNamara averages 13.2 points, 4.5 assists and 35.4 minutes, sparks the Syracuse transition game with his ability to steal the ball and is the team's best three-point shooter. Duany averages 11.0 points as the lone senior in Syracuse's nine-man rotation.

Edge: Kansas

Frontcourts

Kansas: Senior Nick Collison has been the heart of the Jayhawks all year, and his rebounding and defense on Hakim Warrick should be telling tonight. The emergence of junior center Jeff Graves (6-9, 275 pounds) in the wake of a season-ending shoulder injury to Wayne Simien has solidified the interior. Sophomore swingman Keith Langford, playing some of his best basketball at the right time, must find a way to slow down Anthony.

Syracuse: The team draws much energy from Warrick, a 6-8 sophomore who cleans up on the offensive glass and is an intimidating shot-blocker. Warrick averages 15.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, but he has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Center Craig Forth, a 7-footer, plays part time. Anthony, averaging 22.3 points and 10.0 rebounds, is simply the best player left in the tournament, a constant matchup problem down low or on the wing.

Edge: Syracuse

Benches

Kansas: The Jayhawks have rolled through the tournament with a backup unit that is thin at best, although sophomore guard Michael Lee is a threat as a 54.1 shooter from three-point range. Junior 6-6 forward Bryant Nash barely plays 10 minutes a game and exists primarily to give Collison, Langford or Graves an occasional breather.

Syracuse: The Orangemen go three deep on their bench. Junior forward-center Jeremy McNeil (6-8, 248 pounds) plays 18.9 minutes a game and defensively wears people out inside. He will be fouling Collison and Graves tonight. Sophomore guard Josh Pace is an occasional scoring threat. He had career-high 14 points in the East Regional semifinal victory over Auburn. Billy Edelin, a freshman guard from Silver Spring, is averaging 8.9 points and shooting 56 percent.

Edge: Syracuse

Coaches

Syracuse: Coach Jim Boeheim and Kansas coach Roy Williams represent a combined 42 seasons in their current positions. Boeheim, wrapping up his 27th season with the Orangemen, is coaching in his third NCAA final and has an overall record of 652-226 (.743).

Kansas: Williams, in his 15th season and possibly his last at Kansas, is coaching in his second title game. He has an overall record of 418-100 (.807).

Edge: Kansas

Keys to victory

Kansas: The Jayhawks must find a way to keep Anthony from dominating without paying too much attention to the freshman sensation. Langford will get help from more than one source, but his ability to deny Anthony the ball will weigh heavily on Kansas' chances. Langford at least must counter Anthony's scoring with good offensive production. If the Jayhawks keep running the floor the way they did while overwhelming Marquette, they probably will not give the Orangemen adequate time to set up that nasty 2-3 zone.

Syracuse: When the Orangemen miss shots, take special care to hustle back on defense. When they make shots, take special care to hustle back on defense. Syracuse probably wants to avoid a breakneck pace that Kansas craves. But Syracuse can play run-and-gun, and Anthony is as dangerous running the floor as he is backing opponents in down low. Duany must bounce back from a bad night. His matchup with Hinrich could help dictate the outcome.

Bottom line

Syracuse is playing fast, loose and confident. How could it not with Anthony on its side? He is about as close to unguardable as any player in the nation, and he clearly gives the Orangemen the best chance to give Boeheim his elusive title. Kansas is coming off a frightening performance against Marquette, and has a capable three-headed monster in Collison, Hinrich and Langford. The senior presence of Collison and Hinrich should be enough to help the Jayhawks solve the vaunted Syracuse zone and give Williams his first national championship, in possibly his last game at Kansas.

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