ATLANTA — As it prepares for its fifth Final Four appearance in program history, the Syracuse men’s basketball team does not lack for swagger.
Armed with size, range, and athleticism, the Orange banks on its experience in preparing for Michigan, as well as the fact that its steadfast 2-3 zone defense has rattled opponents — the Orange has limited three of its four NCAA tournament opponents to 50 or fewer points.
“I wouldn’t say we’re surprised,” Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said. “But you have your doubts at times. You’re very optimistic. At the beginning of the season I was thinking ‘Final Four,’ but as we struggled I still kept the faith and hoped we’d make it. As the tournament started, I had a lot of confidence that we would make it here.”
The Orange’s confidence appeared to morph into a certain arrogance Friday during the Final Four media day at the Georgia World Congress Center.
When asked about a comment in which Triche described the matchup between the Orange and the Wolverines as “mismatches at every position,” Wolverines guard Nik Stauskas scoffed.
“They’re going to say what they want to say,” the freshman said. “We’re confident in our abilities. We’re just going to go out there and play Michigan basketball.”
Added teammate Trey Burke, “If you’re not confident in the Final Four, then you shouldn’t be here. So I don’t blame them for being confident.”
But Syracuse forward James Southerland spoke in tactical terms when discussing the Wolverines.
“We do a great job of making people take tough shots,” Southerland said. “I know Michigan is a young team, and we’re a little bit older, so we’re going to definitely try to play a little smarter.
“If we go out there and stop them early, make them take tough shots, and limit them on tough opportunities, we’ll be fine.”
IN RESPONSE TO RUTGERS: Chatter surrounded the topic of the Rutgers basketball program, which is under scrutiny after third-year coach Mike Rice was fired in light of a video that surfaced in which Rice was shown verbally and physically abusing players. In addition, Rutgers athletic director Mike Pernetti resigned Friday in the wake of the scandal.
“I’m not really sure,” Michigan’s Mitch McGary answered, when asked how he would respond if he was a player involved in a situation with an abusive coach. “It might be difficult for them but here at Michigan, it’s real classy. You never know what or how to expect it. I’d probably talk to one of the coaches or the [athletic director] but it’s never happened at Michigan.”
WORKING FOR A LIVING: Wichita State entered the tournament as the No. 9 seed in the West region, and the Shockers have turned into one of the tournament’s feel-good stories — not just because they’re a mid-major program.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall’s team is an assembly of junior-college transfers, under-the-radar products, and players who had to make a living before enjoying the unique spoils of playing college basketball.
Carl Hall took two years off from basketball to work in a Georgia factory painting light bulbs, and then went to Middle Georgia Junior College — where the forward cut a deal with the coach, who made him quit working so he could concentrate on school and basketball.
“You come home every day, covered in paint,” Hall said. “It’s just not a great feeling, to work a job that’s a very hard job, especially for a kid that was only 18 years old.”
Malcolm Armstead transferred to Wichita State from Oregon, but the guard had to sit out last season and because Wichita State did not have a scholarship available, Armstead had to pay his own tuition by working at a local car dealership.
“This is my first time ever, playing on a stage and in front of 75,000,” Armstead said. “I’m looking forward to everything it brings.”
WHERE’S WARE? Louisville guard Kevin Ware was scheduled to address the media but a Louisville spokesman told media members that the team’s medical staff advised Ware that he should rest.
Ware suffered a horrific leg injury Sunday in Louisville’s 85-63 win over Duke, and he underwent surgery earlier this week to repair a snapped tibia in his right leg.
Ware, however, appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman on Thursday night in a segment streamed from Atlanta in which he read a top ten list titled “Top 10 Things Going Through Kevin Ware's Mind When He Broke His Leg.”