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South region

Guarding Griffin big job for Orange

By Teresa M. Walker
Associated Press / March 27, 2009
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MEMPHIS - The Syracuse Orange have battled Big East behemoths like Louisville, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh - all No. 1 seeds and still playing in the NCAA Tournament. They have dealt with big men like Pitt's DeJuan Blair and UConn's 7-foot-3-inch Hasheem Thabeet.

Now comes Oklahoma's powerful Blake Griffin.

Let the flattery begin.

"Probably going to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft," Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn said yesterday. "There's nothing really to say about him that everybody in this world doesn't know. He's just so tenacious on the offensive end and the defensive end. He controls the game."

Griffin stands in the way of the third-seeded Orange and a piece of history for coach Jim Boeheim tonight. Boeheim could win his 800th game with a victory in the South Regional semifinal against second-seeded Oklahoma at the FedExForum. The winner plays North Carolina or Gonzaga, who meet in the nightcap.

Boeheim calls Griffin the best big man his Orange (28-9) have faced. The best offensive rebounder and passer. In short, the best player in the country.

"If he hadn't gotten hurt, they'd be a No. 1 seed, which would've been good. We wouldn't have had to play him," Boeheim said.

That's plenty of pressure for any player, let alone a sophomore. Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel isn't shying away from the expectations. If anything, he's heaping more onto Griffin's shoulders to carry the Sooners (29-5) to their first 30-win season since 2002 and first regional final since '03.

"This is where legends are made, this tournament, and this is where legends continue to grow," Capel said.

Syracuse will counter Griffin with Boeheim's 2-3 zone and a pair of 6-9 forwards in Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson.

"They're really tough. Both of them are better players than their numbers might show," Griffin said. "They're both big guys that are physical, and they do a good job inside."

Syracuse ranked ninth in the country and led the Big East, averaging 80.4 points, while Oklahoma ranked 11th and put up 79.1 points per game.

"They're very efficient," Capel said. "They can hurt you in so many different ways."

Capel has worked his Sooners through different ways to attack the 2-3 zone, and they have played against some zone defenses this season.

"So, hopefully, we'll be good at attacking it," he said.

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