(Photo : Reuters)
Louisville avoided the fate suffered by the number one seeded Georgetown Hoyas in the semifinals of the Big East Conference tournament, sending Notre Dame packing 69-57.
Despite a late comeback in the second half, the Hoyas were unable to erase the lead the Syracuse Orangemen had built by halftime. When time expired, the Orange held on to defeat Georgetown 58-55 and advance to the finals of the Big East tournament.
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The finals are nothing new or surprising for the Syracuse team that has won six of the 14 conference finals it has played in over the past 20+ years.
However, the Louisville Cardinals would love to have their cake and eat it too. The current defending champions in the Big East tournament, Louisville will be banking on the strong play of Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng. Smith averages 18.3 points per game while Dieng hauls in almost ten boards per game, both averages are higher than that of C.J. Fair, who leads Syracuse in scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounds (7.1 rpg).
If Syracuse is to finish its Cinderella run in the Big East tournament, the Orange will have to pull off their third straight and possibly biggest upset of the tournament.
With Smith playing out of his mind lately for the Cardinals, James Southerland is going to have to help Fair the way he has all season. It could be said that Southerland is the make it or break it factor for the Orangemen. The senior forward has been sporadic as of late, with moments of greatness shining through such as three 20+ point performances in the last five games. However, he also had a miserable one-point performance against Georgetown just weeks ago. Southerland has the potential to shine, it just depends on whether or not he can go toe-to-toe with Smith down low in the paint.
The Syracuse Orangmen just don't have the stamina required to defeat a Louisville team that wants to grab a back-to-back title for the first time in the school's tenure with the Big East.
Russ Smith's emotional play as of late has been outstanding as well as exciting to watch. As long as he continues to focus his emotions in the right direction while avoiding turnovers, Smith will lead the Cardinals to the championship.
You can watch the game at WatchESPN with coverage starting at 8:30 p.m. EDT.