NCAA Tournament South Region Preview: (3) Syracuse Orange vs. (14) Western Michigan Broncos
Betting odds courtesy of Bovada
Syracuse is a perplexing team to say the least. The Orange finished the season 27-5 and posted a 14-4 record in the ACC, but it faltered heavily down the stretch, losing five of its last seven contests.
It’s not the kind of losses that inspire a lot of confidence in a team to make a deep run, but college basketball oddsmakers aren’t expecting it to matter much in the Orange’s second round matchup against Western Michigan. College basketball odds showed the Orange with a 13 point edge on Western Michigan.
Syracuse began the season on fire and won its first 25 games, but often times March Madness is truly a case of “What have you done for me lately?” Losses to the likes of Boston College, Georgia Tech and N.C. State do not look good for the Orange.
The team does have a host of talent, led by point guard Tyler Ennis, whose stock has skyrocketed among NBA scouts. Ennis averaged 12.7 points, 5.6 assists and just 1.7 turnovers per game, helping account for one of the Orange’s strengths: it doesn’t turn the ball over that much. Syracuse averaged just nine turnovers per game over the 2013-14 season and shot the ball reasonably well from the free throw line (70.3 percent), both factors that help decide close games.
But that isn’t to suggest this matchup against Western Michigan will be close. 6’8″ forward C.J. Fair has had a nice senior season, elevating his scoring average to 16.7 points per game, but he has not shot the ball well this season (43.2 percent field goals; 27.9 percent three-pointers), and he is the primary weapon for Syracuse offensively. In the loss to N.C. State on Mar 14, he shot just 3-of-16 from the floor. As Fair goes, so go the Orange. He was putrid in the loss to Virginia, too, hitting just 4-of-13 from the floor. Western Michigan will hope for a bad shooting night because since Feb 19, the Orange are 0-4 with Fair shooting under 50 percent from the field.
Western Michigan compiled an impressive 23-9 record and 14-4 MAC record during the regular season, winning the MAC championship over Toledo in handy fashion, 98-77. The Broncos ended the season on fire, too, winning 13 of its last 14 games. While the MAC may hardly appear to be a premier conference, it is hardly full of pushovers either, and the Broncos manhandled it.
The Broncos are a good shooting team (46.6 percent field goal percentage) and have three strong offensive players: David Brown, Shayne Whittington and Connar Tava. Whittington can pose a lot of problems defensively, at 6’11″ 245 pounds. He led the team in rebounding (9.1 per game) and was second in scoring (16.3 points per game), and he closed the MAC tournament with a couple of monstrous games, averaging 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks over the final two contests (against Toledo and Akron). He also battered Toledo for 25 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocks on Mar 1.
It’s possible that Syracuse may give increased time to Baye-Moussa Keita if Whittington gets too dominant down low. Though Keita averaged just 15 minutes per game over the season, he has the length (6’10″) to make a difference down low. Jerami Grant is Syracuse’s leading interior player, but he’s just 6’8″ and 210 pounds, so Keita would be much better suited towards matching up with Whittington, if he can stay on the court and be productive.
WMU Trends: 9-2-1 ATS in last 12 overall; OVER 13-6 in last 19 non-conf. games
SYR Trends: 1-6-1 ATS in last 8 overall.