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Syracuse preview: Rebound, rebound, rebound

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We all know that in conference play Kansas State beat Missouri twice by an average of 13 points. Back in November, that same Missouri team beat Notre Dame by 29. In January, Notre Dame beat Syracuse by 9 in their only meeting.

So, by the transitive property of basketball, Kansas State should beat Syracuse by approximately 51 points tomorrow in Pittsburgh. It barely seems like I need to write a preview after using that foolproof logic, but I guess I’ll forge ahead anyway.

You’ve probably heard by now that Syracuse is stunningly bad at defensive rebounding. In fact, ‘Cuse came into the tournament ranked 341st out of 345 teams in defensive rebounding percentage.

That was mostly with their best rebounder, Fab Melo, who is admittedly terrible at rebounding for a seven-footer, averaging just 5.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per game. Still, no matter what Jim Boeheim says, the rebounding and defense Melo provides is a pretty significant loss for a team that grabs only slightly more than 36 rebounds per game and gets outrebounded by an average of 1.3 rebounds per game .

Kansas State, on the other hand, ranks 42nd in the country with a +4.6 rebounding margin, and leads the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage at 40 percent. With Syracuse grabbing just north of 60 percent of defensive rebounds, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that K-State could recover the ball after about half of its missed shots tomorrow, and the 'Cats may need something close to that to have a chance.

Of course, for that to happen, the rest of the Kansas State team will have to take a big step up from yesterday to match the intensity of Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez in game one. I’m especially looking for more out of Jamar Samuels, who grabbed exactly one offensive rebound and for the second time in his career did not attempt a single field goal in 27 minutes against Southern Miss.

As delightful as the rebounding matchup sounds, there are still plenty of good reasons why Syracuse has a 1 in front of their name while Kansas State has an 8. To delve into those, click the jump.

Kansas State has seen a talented, athletic team play a decent but somewhat disorganized 2-3 zone in three games this season. But just about anyone will tell you Baylor is a poor man's Syracuse, as the Orange have what is probably the most feared zone defense in the country.

It certainly helps K-State that there's no Fab Melo (or Hakim Warrick, if you really want to talk scary) in the middle, but this defense still knows how to do everything but rebound. The Orange are a lot bigger and stronger than Southern Miss, and they will absolutely not be afraid to match KSU's physicality.

While making 3-pointers is always especially helpful against the zone, K-State must not fall into the trap of living on the outside, even if shots are falling early. That's simply not sustainable for 40 minutes for most teams, and it's probably exactly what Syracuse wants the ‘Cats to do.

That's why the mid-range games of Jamar and Rod must make an appearance, and Angel Rodriguez is going to have to be a lot smarter than usual in terms of his penetration and passing. This team forces an average of 16.4 turnovers per game, and they'll gladly take easy points wherever they can get them.

Offensively, the Orange are still very strong and athletic, with one of the deepest arrays of talent of any team in the tournament. Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters are extremely good on the perimeter, and it's hard to see anyone in the Orange backcourt that Will Spradling could even begin to guard.

Kris Joseph is extremely efficient and could probably be a superstar forward for most teams and did still make the Big East First Team. But he only averaged 13.8 points per game for Syracuse because that was really about all they needed from him.

At 6-7 and extremely athletic with good shooting range, he's exactly the kind of guy that has given K-State trouble this season (think Royce White, Steven Pledger). You figure Rodney McGruder (or Shane Southwell off the bench) would probably be the best guy to guard him, but Samuels may also get the chance.

C.J. Fair and James Southerland are the top inside scorers for this team without Melo, and Southerland isn't afraid to step out and shoot the 3, even though he's not very good at it. They also got 25 minutes yesterday from fantastically named freshman Rakeem Christmas, but he isn't really much of a scoring threat.

If the ‘Cats want to score inside, it will have to be on quick post moves or cuts to the basket, which UNC Asheville used well to exploit the zone at times yesterday. It's hard to imagine Thomas Gipson have much success in this type of game, unless he goes Beast Mode on the offensive glass.

Syracuse attacks the basket and shoots the ball very well, although they don't light it up from 3-point range (34.1%) or the free throw line (69.2%). Generally, they make up for their lack of rebounding by forcing turnovers and being very efficient on offense.

Of course, K-State has proven it can dominate the boards and still lose, so even if the intensity is there, we'll need to see this team play solid defense and intelligent offense. It would be really cool if Will and Angel hit a few threes, but I don't want to get greedy.

Syracuse looks to me to be the most vulnerable 1 seed and hasn't looked dominant in quite a while, with its last 7 wins coming by 10 points or less. Make no mistake, though, this team's ceiling is well above that of Kansas State, so the Wildcats are going to need to be good and maybe get some deserved help from karma to advance to the Sweet 16.