In case you need perspective on just how unlikely Syracuse’s run to the Final Four has been, consider this: The Orange entered the tournament having lost five of six games, including three straight by five points or fewer.
They then beat Dayton and Middle Tennessee by a combined 49 points, survived No. 11 Gonzaga 63-60, and, after finally playing a truly elite team in No. 1 Virginia, overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to win 68-62.
“When you look at the bracket in which we were in, a lot of things worked out in their favor,” former Syracuse and NFL great Donovan McNabb said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We don’t have great outside shooting. (Trevor) Cooney is a senior. He’s the only player in the Final Four who has played in pretty much two Final Fours throughout his career, but he’s not a great shooter. He’s a volume shooter. You look at (Malachi) Richardson. He’s not a great shooter. He’s a penetrator. He’s a slasher. And let alone not having great shooters, you don’t have great rebounders. The biggest guy is your freshman, (Tyler) Lydon. He wants to shoot outside jump shots. He’s more like a Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki.
“Even with that said,” McNabb continued, “if teams you play against in the 2-3 zone can’t shoot and can’t rebound, it’s going to work out in Syracuse’s favor. That’s been the stigma of Syracuse basketball over the last 20 or 30 years. Look at our girls. Our girls are in the Final Four playing the 2-3 defense. If teams can’t shoot and you out-rebound them, it’s long rebounds and you’re just starting the break.”
Still, Syracuse is nearly a 10-point underdog against North Carolina, which has two players, Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, who have played like All-Americans in the tournament. Heck, Johnson, who is averaging 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks through four games, is playing like a Wooden Award winner.
Nevertheless, McNabb is more so worried about the Tar Heels’ front-court depth with Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson.
“When it comes to North Carolina, it’s about their second unit – not so much their starters, their second unit,” McNabb said. “If their second unit comes in and plays the way they’ve been playing in the tournament, it’s going to be tough for us.”
Moving to football, McNabb was also asked about Robert Griffin III, who signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns in March.
Can RG3 succeed in the NFL?
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” McNabb said. “I didn’t like the way things kind of ended for him in Washington. What second pick in the draft do you know that’s still on the team and didn’t dress but one game in the season? I just didn’t like how the new GM (Scot McCloughan) and Jay Gruden handled this whole situation. . . . I just thought for RG3 this is a new kind of arrival for him. I like what he’s going to do in Cleveland. It’s going to take some time. I just think that the fans and the media don’t really have patience with RG3.”