Team Info: Western Michigan plays in the Mid American Conference and received an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after winning its tournament. The team is 23-9 and tied Toledo for the best regular season record going 14-4. The Broncos usually play man-to-man defense and are coached by Steve Hawkins who chauffeured for John Wooden while working for UCLA basketball camps early in his in career. This is Western Michigan’s third ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, the program has never made past the round of 32.
Road to the Tournament: The Broncos are 1-1 this season against teams in the big dance. In its first game, the Broncos knocked off an NCAA Tournament 13-seed in New Mexico State at a neutral location. Also early on in the season Western Michigan lost to the Summit League champions and 12-seed North Dakota State. Western Michigan is 2-2 against teams in the NIT tournament this year. Hawkins’s side has beaten NIT 6–seed Toledo two out of three times. His team also lost to Missouri in December, an NIT 2–seed. Western Michigan’s worst loss of the season came at the hands of Drake in December. The Broncos have only lost one game since February 1.
Impact Players: Western Michigan’s scoring leader is senior shooting guard David Brown who averages 19.4 points per game. Brown scored 25 against New Mexico State, 27 against North Dakota State, and 32 against Toledo in the conference championship game. He is an efficient scorer who averages only 13 shots per game. In comparison, CJ Fair takes 15 shots per game and averages 16.7 points per game (albeit against much better opposition). The other player SU has to worry about is 6’11″ senior center Shayne Whittington. He averages a near double-double (16 points and 9 rebounds per game). His height will definitely cause a problem for the Orange big men who have struggled to rebound at times this season. Whittington has scored in double figures in 17 straight games.
Advantages for Western Michigan: This team can score. Eleven times this season Western Michigan has scored 80 or more points in a game. Syracuse has only accomplished this feat five times. Obviously, it’s very unlikely that Western Michigan can put up these kinds of numbers against the daunting SU zone that holds its opposition to under 60 points per game. That being said, Brown and Whittington are legitimate scorers for the Broncos and can definitely hurt SU in this first round matchup, especially with the way the Orange has been shooting lately. The other edge Western Michigan has over the Orange is depth. The Broncos have consistently played nine guys this season compared to Syracuse’s seven.
Advantages for the Orange: Buffalo. Buffalo. Buffalo. Despite ending the season on such a poor note the Orange is playing right in its own backyard for this game. The Syracuse contingent will be massive and the noise will rival what is heard at the Carrier Dome for SU home games. Western Michigan has not played a game in that kind of atmosphere this season. The other advantage for the Orange is its experience. With the exception of Tyler Ennis and Michael Gbinije, every player for SU was involved in last season’s final four run. This team knows what it takes to win games in March, unlike Western Michigan.
Anything can happen during March Madness and Syracuse is definitely struggling at the moment, but this team should really take care of business on Thursday and advance to play the winner of Ohio State and Dayton this Saturday.
Posted: Connor Morrissette