Kansas State sophomore guard Shane Southwell grew up in Harlem, N.Y., and watched his fair share of Syracuse games growing up, including the Orange’s run to the 2003 NCAA title when he was a wide-eyed 11-year-old.
“Everybody remembers Carmelo (Anthony) from that season and how great he played,” Southwell said. “But the thing I remember is Gerry McNamara lighting it up in the Big East tournament and what an amazing shooter he was.”
Southwell also pointed out that McNamara, one of the most popular players in Syracuse history, is now an assistant coach for the Orange, a team that advertises itself as “New York’s College Team” on the front of its NCAA Tournament guides.
So would it be sweeter to get a win against the marquee team from his home state? Not necessarily.
“(Syracuse) is one of the premiere teams in the country, so that probably sticks out more than being from New York,” Southwell said. “I didn’t grow up as a fan of them or anything like that. They just had good players I enjoyed watching. Still do.”
Rodney McGruder said he heard from friends and family after scoring 30 points against Southern Mississippi, and enjoyed sharing the moment with them. But he didn’t feel like a superstar after the big game.
McGruder doesn’t have a Twitter account and doesn’t regularly interact with fans through social media. He likes to keep his focus on the games, and that didn’t change on Friday.
When he was asked about McGruder on Friday, K-State coach Frank Martin made sure to point out how well he is playing on defense.
“Everyone is talking about his scoring,” Martin said. “Over an 18-game Big 12 schedule, he was one of the five best defensive players.”
McGruder made four steals against Southern Miss and should defend Syracuse’s Kris Joseph.
“He’s come a long way,” K-State’s Will Spradling said. “Last year people thought defense was his weakness. From that to the all-Big 12 defensive team, it’s a big turnaround. That’s just him in the gym working on it.”
K-State coach Frank Martin made a point Friday of talking about Syracuse’s size, specifically in its backcourt.
“They come at you with guards that are 6-foot-4 and 6-5,” Martin said. “They’re huge.”
Syracuse plays four guards — Scoop Jardine (6-2), Brandon Triche (6-4), Dion Waiters (6-4) and James Southerland (6-8) — but their size could be deceiving because none of them averages more than 3.1 rebounds per game. As a team, Syracuse has been weak on the boards — in Big East play they were outrebounded 38.1 to 34.3 per game.
The Wildcats play five guards, and 6-4 junior Rodney McGruder is the top rebounder out of the bunch at 5.3 per game. Sophomore Shane Southwell is the biggest at 6-6 but has been largely ineffective this season, although he still averages 17.1 minutes. Angel Rodriguez is 5-11, Martavious Irving is 6-1 and Will Spradling is 6-2.
“I know how big their guards are, and hopefully if I can get in and get in some sort of rhythm I can negate that a little bit,” Southwell said. “When they crash, they can cause some matchup problems.”Cold streak
Spradling hasn’t made a three-pointer in his past two games and has been struggling as a shooter all season.
He hasn’t scored in double figures since early February, and is searching for consistency. Today would be a good time for him to bust out of his slump. Nothing hurts zone defenses more than three-pointers.
Spradling said he would try to find a gym and practice his shot Friday night.
“If I get one going in I feel like the next one is going to go in,” Spradling said. “(Yesterday) coaches were telling me to shoot it every time I’m open. (Today) they tell me I’m going to get a lot more open shots and not to be afraid to shoot it.”| Kellis Robinett, firstname.lastname@example.org and Tony Adame, The Wichita Eagle