No. 4 seed Syracuse (29-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) has made history by reaching its first ever Final Four. The Orange will play Washington (26-10, 11-7 Pacific-12) on Sunday night in Indianapolis, with the winner moving on to the national championship game. The two teams met much earlier in the season, in November, and Syracuse came away with a 4-point victory.Our beat writers Connor Grossman, Jon Mettus and Paul Schwedelson discuss three questions surrounding Sunday’s game.1. What’s changed the most for each team since their last matchup in November? Is it even valuable to use that game as a reference point or has too much changed?Connor Grossman: When Syracuse and Washington squared off on Nov. 27, SU’s season was only three games old. So by that logic, everything’s changed. The Orange has smoothed out most of the bumps in it’s defensive press and is squeezing teams in the program’s biggest-ever games. Against Tennessee in the Elite Eight, Syracuse was fueled by 25 points off turnovers, and nine on the fastbreak. For the Huskies, Chantel Osahor has blossomed into a threat from behind in the arc with a .360 shooting-percentage from behind the arc in her first season as a starter.Jon Mettus: Syracuse and Washington are both much better than when the Orange slipped past the Huskies on Nov. 27. Keep in mind, SU was up 21 in that game and shot terribly, but still won. For Syracuse, the differences are in the press and its overall quality of play. That team could not have upset No. 1 seed South Carolina or made it to the ACC championship game. Alexis Peterson has had a stellar postseason and doesn’t look to be cooling off anytime soon. Washington has relied on Kelsey Plum slightly less as a scorer recently. Instead, she’s been the facilitator to players like Talia Walton and Osahor. Huskies starting guard Brianna Ruiz suffered a season-ending injury in January, but Alexus Atchley has stepped up in her place. More than four months separate this Final Four matchup from the first game and both teams have vastly improved. You’d get more value out of watching recent film on each team than the game in November.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textPaul Schwedelson: The first matchup between these two teams was on Nov. 27 and was SU’s fourth game of the year. At that point in time, we still hadn’t known which Brittney Sykes would show up the rest of the year. We didn’t know Alexis Peterson would emerge as one of the country’s best point guards. But looking back, UW’s Walton, Plum and Osahor were the Huskies’ three best scorers. Several months later, they still are. And one of the keys to beating Washington will be containing those three.2. Could SU possibly focus too much on defending Kelsey Plum?C.G.: The focal point of Syracuse’s defense should be to seal off Plum, and with good reason. Her 26.2 points per game is third-best in the country. But SU has gotten up against other Top 10 scorers this month in Shereesha Richards and Kelsey Minato, allowing them to score 23 and 10 points, respectively. The Orange won’t deviate from its defensive formula its leaned on all year, but expect an extra emphasis on getting the ball out of Plum’s hands.J.M.: For the Orange to beat Washington, it’ll have to shut down more than just Plum’s shot. She’s one of the nation’s top scorers, but the key will be to get the ball out of her hands before she even gets to the offensive side of the court. Syracuse thrives on pressure and keeping the ball out of the other team’s ball handlers’ hands. Turnovers equal points (and fewer points for the other team). Part of shutting Plum down in the half court includes also taking away her passes which lead to assists. If Syracuse can reduce her to having just a moderate impact, it’ll be tough to lose the game.P.S.: Syracuse will very likely use its typical full-court press, which falls back into a 2-3 zone once the opposition settles the offense. This is what the Orange has been doing all season and what has helped the program reach new heights. The biggest concern for SU would be if Plum gets hot from deep, Syracuse would have to decide how far to extend out to her in the zone. Against South Carolina in the Sweet 16, Tina Roy hit five first-half 3s. SU subsequently defended her tighter in the second half and the Gamecocks went 1-for-16 from 3 in the second half. Perhaps another in-game adjustment will be warranted but I wouldn’t expect any deviation from Syracuse’s standard defense to start the game.3. Other then Alexis Peterson, who’s the key offensively for the Orange? C.G.: Syracuse needs to lean on Briana Day and a strong presence under the basket to capitalize on second-chance opportunities. The Huskies average 29 defensive rebounds per game, 14th-best in the country, and will be an annoyance to SU on the boards. Even with Peterson shouldering a superhuman load for the Orange offense this postseason, it’s in the team’s best interest to spread out the production across Sykes and Brianna Butler. Butler’s capable of rescuing Syracuse from deep holes with her 3-point tendencies, and Sykes 24-point day against Albany proved she can still be a premier threat.J.M.: Butler. She’s the team’s best threat from 3-point range and can change the entire course of a game in just a few possessions. When she gets hot, Butler can hit six 3s in one half. But when she’s cold, she can hit just one in double-digit attempts during a game. At times, Syracuse lives and dies by the 3-pointer. No one influences that more than Butler. When she’s making shots and the press is working, SU becomes virtually unstoppable.P.S.: The beauty of this question is there’s no right answer. And that’s what has made Syracuse so dangerous on this recent hot streak. The player that most opposing coaches talk about is Butler. If the NCAA’s active career leader in made 3s gets hot, it’s nearly impossible to stop the Orange (see wins over South Carolina and Tennessee). But if Butler’s off, SU can still turn to Sykes, who is averaging 15.8 points in the NCAA tournament. And if not Sykes, you never know when a bench player like Cornelia Fondren, Maggie Morrison or Taylor Ford is going to go off for 15-plus points. But to answer the question, since Butler is so streaky and you never know which one you’ll get, Sykes is the key to balance the scoring off of Peterson’s shoulders. Comments Published on April 1, 2016 at 5:14 pm Facebook Twitter Google+

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