(9) Baylor vs. (8) Syracuse
Time: 9 PM CT (Tru TV)
Spread: SYR -2.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Syracuse Orange finished its season 20-13 with a 6th place finish in the ACC regular season. It lost 72-84 to Duke in the ACC quarterfinals, but Syracuse defeated Duke earlier in the season and fared 3-8 against AP-Ranked opponents with a rather tough schedule. It faces #9 seeded Baylor in the opening round, and the Orange are 2.5-point favorites over Baylor in a game with an over/under set at 132 points according to college basketball oddsmakers at 5dimes.
Baylor went 19-13 this season with a 10-8 mark in Big 12 play. Baylor lost its final four games of the regular season, including an embarrassing 66-83 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinal.
Syracuse closed its season by losing three of its last four games. The Orange lost badly to then-No. 2 Virginia and were defeated by Duke by double-digits in its ACC tournament exit. The Orange are led by the trio of Tyus Battle, Elijah Hughes, and Oshae Brissett. Battle sees 36.3 minutes a night and leads Syracuse in point production with 17.2 points per game, though his three-point marksmanship is subpar (31.5 percent). Hughes is the teams best threat from deep at 36 percent, but he attempted roughly one-half as many as Battle did over the season.
Brissett leads the team in rebounding and is No. 5 in threes attempted but hits just 26 percent of those looks. Syracuse attempted 795 threes this season, which is moderately high, and the Orange connected on 33 percent of those looks. Syracuse averaged just 69.7 points per game, but it plays in a tough defensive conference and it is one of the defensive juggernauts of the ACC, limiting its opponents to just 65.7 per game (No. 40 defense in the nation).
The Orange typically do not have a large margin of error given it plays a slower pace. It also failed to score 60 points in three of its final games, as Virginia held it to 53 and Clemson held the Orange to 55 points, both resulting in heavy double-digit losses. The Orange posted a 9-3 record when Battle scored 20 points or more this season. The Orange began its season 4-0 but lost to Old Dominion and Buffalo before winning four more straight to start 2018 with an 8-2 mark.
The Baylor Bears posted a 10-8 record in the Big 12, finishing behind Kansas, K-State and Texas Tech. Baylor fared 3-4 against top-25 opponents this year, using its tough defense to stay in games and close it out with the offense of Tristan Clark and Makai Mason. The pair led the team in scoring at 14.6 points per game, while Clark also led Baylor in rebounding (6.3) and is a huge shot blocker on the defensive end. Clark averages 2.4 blocks per game and 1.1 steals and can be a real game changer with his defensive activity.
Clark is a 6’9” sophomore who played an important role last year as a true freshman when he averaged seven points and 4.5 rebounds per game in just under 20 minutes a night. This season in just under 30 minutes a night, he is shooting 73.7 percent from the field as a premier, big-time finisher around the basket. When Clark blocks at least three shots, Baylor is 3-0. He played in just 14 games this season, but is an important part of Baylor’s defense.
The Bears limited opponents to 67.2 points per game this season, but it also scored just 71.7 itself. It is a strong team on the interior and great on the glass, but struggles with free throws (team percentage of 67 percent) and has a bit of a turnover problem at 13.3 per game (which would be less problematic if the pace were faster, but this is a lot for Baylor).