As Syracuse basketball packs its bags to travel out west to take on Baylor in Salt Lake City, Utah, there’s one conference the Orange hope to avoid. The ACC. Let’s imagine everything goes right for SU, and it beats Baylor in game one, and advances to likely play Gonzaga in the second round.
The Zags are rightfully seeded as a 1-seed after a great season that included a win over Duke and a close loss to Tennessee. And with a frontcourt featuring Rui Hachimura and backcourt with Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell, the Bulldogs can beat any team in the country. Norvell and Perkins can both light it up from three as they shoot 37 percent. Meanwhile Hachimura is a force in the paint, averaging 20 points on 60 percent shooting. But last season Michigan State had studs in Jaren Jackson Jr. Cassius Winston, and Miles Bridges who failed to figure out the 2-3 zone. So let’s envision a world where the 2-3 continues to terrorize March Madness and pushes SU past the Zags.
In the Sweet Sixteen Syracuse could face its first ACC opponent of the tourney in Florida State. And in the past couple of tournaments SU has made, the ACC has been its kryptonite. The power of the 2-3 zone is that it’s incredibly difficult to prepare for in a couple of days. It takes time and repetition to beat. Teams need to be familiar with the zone to conquer it. And if you’re an ACC squad, the 2-3 zone isn’t as daunting. FSU demolished Syracuse earlier this season in an 80-62 beat down in the Carrier Dome. The Seminoles hit 11-22 shots from three and found open shooters on its way to 25 assists. Put simply, a veteran Florida State squad knew how to beat the zone.
But FSU will have its hands full on its potential journey to the Sweet Sixteen. First it challenges a 27-6 Vermont squad that rarely makes mistakes. Both teams are veteran squads that crash the glass hard, out-rebounding opponents by over four rebounds per game.
If the ‘Noles take down Vermont, they play the winner of the enticing matchup between Murray State and Marquette. Two of the best guards in the country square off in Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard.
Howard is averaging 25 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from three. If you give him any separation, he’ll make you pay. Meanwhile Morant is averaging just under 25 points, but is dishing out 10 assists per game as well. He’s more of a slasher that can leap over anyone at any given moment. And what better stage to show off his hops than March Madness.
Of course, Syracuse has to take down Baylor before we should even begin to think of these hypotheticals. And Gonzaga is a 1-seed for a reason. It has all the skills to take down any team in the country and is a strong favorite to win it all. But as recent history has shown us, it’s the ACC teams the Orange struggle with. Last year after beating Michigan State, it was Duke who ended SU’s run. Two years earlier, UNC stopped Syracuse’s cinderella run in the final four. So maybe, just maybe, if everything goes right for the Orange, it should be a Sweet Sixteen showdown with Florida State that should make fans nervous.