Arizona State-Syracuse Preview
March 21, 2009
MIAMI (AP) - Syracuse's Jonny Flynn and Arizona State's James Harden had both just experienced an NCAA tournament victory for the first time, and the good friends wanted to celebrate with each other.
So off to South Beach they went Friday night, chowing down on chicken wings and french fries with a few teammates.
"It was just fun just to interact a little bit," Flynn said.
They'll interact again Sunday, and only one will have fun when that meeting ends.
Flynn and Harden will lead their respective teams into an NCAA South Regional second-round game Sunday, a spot in the Sweet 16 awaiting the winner, and quite possibly a spot in the NBA draft awaiting the loser. The super sophomore guards - both leading their teams in scoring - could be lottery picks this year if they left school. Yet for now, that's the farthest thing from their minds.
"It's just a friendship," Harden said. "On the court, it's different. I'm sure he feels the same. He wants to win just as much as I do. Off the court, it's a friendship, but obviously on the court we both want to win."
Third-seeded Syracuse (27-9) got to the second round by beating Stephen F. Austin 59-44; Arizona State (25-9), the sixth seed, advanced with a 66-57 win over Temple. It was Syracuse's first NCAA tournament win in five years, while Arizona State was in a six-year drought.
For Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Sunday could bring the 799th win of his Hall of Fame career. In classic Boeheim style, he wanted no part of that discussion Saturday.
"You know, we're looking for our second win in this tournament tomorrow, and we're focused on that," Boeheim said. "That's all we're really focused on right now. Those other things, if we ever get there, we'll talk about them, I guess, for about two minutes, and then we'll go on."
Neither Flynn nor Harden were at their best Friday.
Flynn scored 16 points and had seven assists, but also turned the ball over a season-high-tying seven times. Harden was 1-for-8 from the floor and scored just nine points, but the Pac-10 player of the year made that lone basket count, a 3-pointer late in the second half that helped push the Sun Devils to the win.
If anyone thinks this game is a 1-on-1 battle, think again.
Arizona State got a career-best 22 points from point guard Derek Glasser and 22 more from forward Jeff Pendergraph on Friday, while the Orange enjoyed big days from their biggest guys - 12 points from Arinze Onuaku on 6-for-7 shooting, 12 points from Rick Jackson and 16 rebounds from Paul Harris.
"I really think they're in the mix of teams from the beginning who people who could legitimately point to and say, 'Hey, they're a contender for the national championship,"' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "Their talent quotient is tremendous. ... We're going to have to play an great all-around game."
Syracuse and Arizona State have met only once, in 1968. Still, there's no shortage of ties that bind the programs, some obvious, some obscure.
Both coaches swear by the zone: Boeheim is a master of the 2-3, and Sendek has adopted a 3-2 in recent seasons, with great success. They have a friendship that goes back years, with Boeheim saying he's known Sendek since the "days when he was living in his car up in Providence working 14 hours a day for some crazy coach," referring to longtime pal Rick Pitino.
(Not true says Sendek. He didn't even have a car when he started at Providence in 1985.)
Boeheim spent last summer as an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic basketball team in Beijing alongside Nate McMillan - whose son, Jamelle, is a top reserve guard for the Sun Devils.
"I'm sure Nate is going to be rooting against me tomorrow," Boeheim said.
But the key tie, of course, is that of Flynn and Harden, who met before their junior year of high school at a camp, exchanged numbers and have stayed tight since.
"Playing basketball you meet so many different people," Flynn said. "You create long-lasting relationships for the rest of your life."
Boeheim drew a parallel from the Beijing Olympics, where LeBron James and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade became closer friends, which translated into even more heated matchups as opponents.
That likely will happen with Flynn and Harden on Sunday.
"I think LeBron knocked Dwyane on his butt one game this year," Boeheim said. "When they go out to play, if anything, they may play harder against each other because they want to win more."