Well, here we are. Syracuse was literally the last team into the tournament on the heels of last year’s NIT disappointment. Only one of our writers predicted the Orange would come close to 20 wins (hat tip to you, Jonathon). Now, Syracuse gets a First Four matchup against fellow 11 seed Arizona State. You can listen here for The Fizz’s preview podcast, or if you prefer it in text form, read on.
Logan Grossman: Arizona State 71, Syracuse 62
When Syracuse’s name was called on Selection Sunday, many fans were quick to claim they saw it coming but, in reality, there was no real reason to expect them to be here. The Orange now play a team that for the first half of the season not only looked like a tournament team, but a high seed. ASU is really hard to get a read on. They can shoot the basketball and are unfazed by big-time teams. The only thing the Orange does have going for them is the 2-3 zone, which ASU has never had the luxury of seeing in person before. The game may ultimately come down to whether or not the Sun Devils can hit some open threes and, they seem to have the weapons to be able to do that.
Nathan Dickinson: Syracuse 68, Arizona State 63
Syracuse’s biggest asset against Arizona State is its size. The Sun Devils’ tallest player is 6-10 De’Quon Lake, and he gets less than 20 minutes per game. The ASU guards are the biggest threat. Seniors Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice lead Bobby Hurley’s squad and combine for 48 points per game, but led the team into a downward spiral in the second half of the season. ASU started the season 12-0 and up to No. 3 in the country, but finished 8-12 to barely make the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has done more for me lately (barely), so the Orange uses the 2-3 and length to barely pull out a win and make the round of 64.
Tyler Aki: Syracuse 73, Arizona State 65
Arizona State has one major strength: shooting threes. However, the Sun Devils haven’t done that well since January. This has been a hot and cold venture for Syracuse this season. There are games where SU can absolutely lock down opponents from deep, and others where it struggles to locate the shooters on the floor. If there is any big indicator for Orange success, it falls in Mike Hopkins’ hands. The former SU assistant turned Washington head coach held the Sun Devils to 5-for-19 from deep against the famed 2-3 zone. Offensively for Syracuse, the Dayton rims appeared to be very soft in both of yesterday’s games. That should bode well for Frank Howard’s floaters, as well as Syracuse’s big men around the rim. Tyus Battle knows how important these games are for him. This could be the difference between working his way back into the draft lottery or another season of getting run into the ground for 40 minutes a night. Expect him to come out swinging and exploit the Sun Devils’ poor defense.
Drew Carter: Arizona State 73, Syracuse 69
If you take a look at their holistic résumés, the Orange and Sun Devils are about as evenly-matched as two teams can be — but their style of play and range of potential performance could not be more different. Syracuse has not deviated from a pretty clear baseline all season: SU’s ceiling isn’t high, but its floor isn’t low. Arizona State, meanwhile, vacillates between phenomenal and abominable, with the majority of its PAC-12 games falling into the latter category. If ASU comes out flat, the ‘Cuse should cruise, but if Bobby Hurley’s group looks like the team that toppled Kansas and Xavier on its way to a 12-0 start, this could be over a few minutes after the opening tip. Even though we don’t know which Sun Devils will show up in Dayton, I’m reluctantly backing them because I think they are engineered to shred a zone. ASU can rain fire from downtown (if “downtown” even exists in Dayton), features a player who can feast at the high post, and has experience against zone defenses. Hurley gushed Tuesday about 6-foot-7 forward Mickey Mitchell’s zone-busting chops, praising the redshirt-sophomore’s IQ, passing ability, and “downhill attack” physicality when driving from the free throw line. Hurley has seen Mitchell display those skills against the zone several times in a conference littered with teams that have abandoned man-to-man this season — so we can throw out the argument that “they won’t be ready for the zone.” Syracuse might hammer Arizona State on the boards and choke the life out of the Sun Devils’ high-octane offense, but I lean slightly toward ASU in this battle of conflicting styles.
David Edelstein: Arizona State 85, Syracuse 77
I’ll try and keep this prediction as short as Syracuse’s Tournament will last this year (ouch, sorry, but no Orange fan is going to want to read this). This is a matchup of a potent offense (Arizona State) and a solid defense (Syracuse), so it will be a good one to watch. The only thing is that regardless of how good SU’s defense has been, its offense has struggled so mightily this season that it hasn’t been able to secure the close wins it needs. This is a win the Orange needs. Too many times this season we’ve seen Syracuse keep an opponent’s score low and still lose within a few points. When watching the Orange at times this season, we’ve had to ask whether we were watching college basketball or golf. And with the Sun Devils playing out of their mind this year led by three top-scoring seniors, ASU is coming into this game with massive upside while SU deals with the surprise that it wasn’t left for the NIT again this season (wasn’t this team better and more experienced last year and didn’t even get the 16th seed?). Maybe Syracuse’s miracle press will return and in the end (literally, the end of the game) this group of young SU players will become legends on a run for it all (re: 2016), but right now I’m drinking iced tea over orange juice.
JD Raucci: Syracuse 75, Arizona State 68
They say defense wins championships and if that phrase holds true on Wednesday night then SU should have no problem dealing with Arizona State. This game really is a matchup of the unstoppable force (ASU) meeting the immovable object (SU). The Sun Devils score the 14th most points per game in the entire country while the Orange allows the 16th fewest. But you also have to consider who each team has made those marks against. SU obviously plays in the ACC which houses some of the best offenses in the country in Duke (8th), UNC (26th) and Florida State (31st), so to put those kinds of defensive numbers is incredibly impressive given the competition it faces night in and night out. Meanwhile, ASU plays in the Pac-12 where the best defense is Utah at 82nd in the nation. Because of that lack of competition, the numbers are a bit skewed for Bobby Hurley’s team, so I like SU to win the battle of offense versus defense. On top of that, in a tournament game, you’ve got to go with the team that has more postseason experience and Jim Boeheim far surpasses Hurley in terms of tournament coaching so I think that experience plus a stellar defense gets the Orange past the Sun Devils and into the field of 64.
Jonathon Hoppe: Syracuse 68, Arizona State 67
This seems to be a near perfect matchup for Syracuse in the First Four. Not only are the Orange playing with house money in the NCAA Tournament, but its facing an ASU team that comes into the Big Dance limping. In my eyes, there are two main reasons the Orange has had tournament success in the past: the 2-3 zone and an already, shrunk rotation. Most teams shrink their rotation in the Tournament, but, as you know, Jim Boeheim did that back in November. Syracuse has been great on defense all season long, and I don’t see why it won’t slow down the Sun Devils on Wednesday. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll be enough to get the job done. Bring on Jamie Dixon.
Tim Leonard: Syracuse 70, Arizona State 64
Arizona State might have more offensive pop but the Sun Devils come into this game completely reeling and also struggle against zone defenses. Not to mention, Syracuse has a big size advantage. Expect a big performance from Paschal Chukwu and the Orange to win the always-pivotal rebounding battle. At the end of the day, ASU might keep it close down the stretch but as long as SU controls the tempo it will survive and advance to Detroit.