SI.com 2003 Men's NCAA Tourney 2003 Men's NCAA Tourney


Posted: Monday April 07, 2003 11:11 AM

SI.comís Stewart Mandel breaks down the national championship.
Kansas (29-7) vs. Syracuse (29-5)
Monday, April 7, 9:21 p.m. EST (CBS)
Louisiana Superdome (54,500)
For sentimental types, it doesnít get much better than Monday nightís coaching matchup. With a combined 42 years at their schools and seven Final Four appearances, Syracuseís Jim Boeheim and Kansasí Roy Williams have won more NCAA tournament games without claiming the title than any other coaches. That drought will now come to an end for one of them. A victory would also be storybook for Kansasí two senior stars, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, either of whom could have bolted for the NBA after last season but returned for one more shot at the title. But just because the Orangemenís brightest stars Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara are only freshmen doesnít mean they donít want the prize just as badly.

  Kirk Hinrich Kirk Hinrich
AP
Backcourts
Kansasí lightning-quick fast break obviously begins with its guards -- Hinrich, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee -- all of whom are skilled ball-handlers capable of getting upcourt in the blink of an eye. Syracuseís McNamara and Kueth Duany, as well as backups Josh Pace and Billy Edelin, have to be careful to get back on defense, after both made and missed field goals. The versatile Hinrichís first instinct is to attack, but if the Orangemen are able to set up their 2-3 zone, the onus will be on him to hit his outside shots. The Jayhawks arenít always a great 3-point shooting team but they did make an impressive 8-of-19 in the semifinal against Marquette. Defensively, the Jayhawks have to get out and defend the feisty McNamara on the perimeter but also be careful not to let him penetrate. Miles will start out on him but look for Hinrich to assist.

  Anthony Carmelo Anthony
AP
Frontcourts
Syracuse will present the most athletic frontcourt Kansas has seen. Superstar Carmelo Anthony, who had an astonishing 33 points and 14 rebounds in the semifinal against Texas, is capable of attacking inside or out and demands constant attention, yet he also distributes like a guard. And if the Jayhawksí forwards focus too hard on Anthony theyíre apt to get burned by Hakim Warrick, another athletic slasher. Swingman Langford draws the assignment on Anthony, but itís hard to imagine heíll be able to do it alone. KU All-American Collison, though a more traditional post player, has previously guarded perimeter players like Dukeís Dahntay Jones and may factor against Anthony. On offense, Collison and Jeff Graves have the luxury of a potential mismatch against Syracuseís Craig Forth and Jeremy McNeil, but only if KUís guards are able to break the Orangemenís zone. Their role may be more to crash the boards and get the Jayhawksí transition going.

Williams knows only one version of basketball, and thatís breakneck speed on offense, tight man-to-man on defense. Boeheimís claim to fame is the 2-3 zone. Which style will prove superior depends on how well theyíre executed. Syracuse knows it has to slow down Kansas but will only accomplish that if it makes shots on offense and gets back on defense. The Jayhawks will need to hit their outside shots and get to the glass. Neither team goes particularly deep, but each has a couple subs who could play key roles, the athletic Lee and Bryant Nash for Kansas and Edelin and Pace, two offensive sparkplugs, for Syracuse.

Syracuse forward Carmelo Anthony
Freshman, 6-8, 220 pounds
vs.
Kansas forward Nick Collison
Senior, 6-9, 255 pounds

It doesnít get much better than two of the nationís absolute top players squaring off in the national championship game. It remains to be seen how much theyíll actually go head-to-head, but itís hard to imagine the Jayhawks will be able to contain Anthony without Collisionís services. Anthony may be only a freshman but heís quite clearly the best athlete in college basketball. He put on a show against Texas and knows how to take over a game but is also smart enough to dish the ball when defenses focus too much on him. Collison is a classic post-up force who had his own monster game in the Sweet 16 against Duke. If heís able to establish position in the paint heíll be hard to stop. Defensively, he might not be able to shut down Anthony but could at least use his physical presence to alter the freshmanís game.

Itís an intriguing matchup because both teams play such different styles and create major matchup problems on either side. Kansas would love to pound it inside to Collision but may not be able to against the zone. Likewise, Syracuse would love to employ the zone throughout but may not be able to amidst Kansasí rapid transitions. The age factor -- Kansasí seniors vs. Syracuseís freshmen -- probably wonít play that much of a factor. But it is clear that the Orangemen will need a monster offensive game to keep up with the Jayhawks, and it would seem they already used that one up against Texas. Anthony alone will give Kansas more than its share of problems. But in the end, the Jayhawks will wear down Syracuse with their pace and deliver Williams his first national title.
The pick: Kansas 78, Syracuse 72


 
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