Welp, here we are again. Selection Sunday has come and gone. Syracuse is in Salt Lake City as an 8 as many expected. Now they play an opponent that plenty know little about in Baylor. As we all know 8/9 games are always a toss-up so let’s break down why Syracuse may or may not win this game a little more.
3 Reasons Syracuse Wins
Baylor Isn’t Trending
The Bears have struggled since Tristan Clark (14.6 PPG) went down with a knee injury. They come in as losers of 4 in a row. Now, at first glance same can be said about Syracuse. But, those loses were more due to a tough schedule. Baylor has also lost to some tough ranked teams. However, one way to tell they are sliding more of late than SU. The Bears are 2-7-2 in their last 11 games against the Vegas spread. Their one spread victory in their last six games is a half point cover against Kansas State in a six point loss on the road. While, the Orange are 6-5 in their last 11 vs the spread. That means Syracuse has exceed expectations or met them way more than Baylor in the past month or so.
Baylor has struggled to take care of the ball all season and its gotten even worse since the injury to Clark. They rank outside the top 200 nation (13.3 turnovers per game) in that category. For comparison, Syracuse and the zone forces the 27th most turnovers in the country (15.6 per game). It’ll be interesting to see if the press is used against Baylor with that in mind. At the very least, Jim Boeheim probably knows he can go to it if they’re trailing like in previous tournament comeback wins (looking at you UVA).
Boeheim: Tyus Battle is close to 100 percent and should be there in a few days. Good practice today.
— Orange Fizz (@OrangeFizz) March 17, 2019
More Talent, More Tournament Pedigree
This one has less to do with the X’s and O’s of the game but is still important to mention. It’s the reason why a majority of college basketball fans filling out their bracket in their cubicles at work this week are going to take Syracuse in this 8/9 matchup. They know Jim Boeheim. They know the zone is known for giving teams problems in March and might even know Tyus Battle. Same can’t really be said about Scott Drew. Granted, Drew has made two trips to the Elite Eight and two trips to the Sweet 16 in his time at Baylor. But, there’s a reason Syracuse was a preseason top 25 team and Baylor wasn’t. The Orange have more talent and more experience.
3 Reasons Why Syracuse Loses
Mario Kegler Hits Jumpers
Kegler is by no means a star on this team. He averages 10.7 PPG and 6.0 RPG. In fact, he might not even start against the Orange on Thursday night. However, as a 6-7 athletic guard with vision and a decent mid-range jumper, he’s the potential zone buster. The Mississippi State transfer is your Nigel Hayes or Theo Pinson in this game. Just a poor-man’s version. The good news for SU? He’s an inconsistent shooter who’s three point numbers have dipped this year. Kegler’s made 28.6% of his threes this year compared to around 34% beyond the arc two years ago on more attempts. The bad news? He’s still been knocking down 12-15 foot jump-shots recently, which is where he could hurt SU. He’s coming off a 16 point performance against Iowa State and could be the X-factor for Baylor Thursday night.
That Rebounding Thing
I’m sure you’ve heard it by now. Baylor is #2 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and 11th in OREB’s per game (13.3). And you know Syracuse has been plagued by this all year, (#273 in country in DREB’s). The stats kinda speak for themselves. Paschal Chukwu, Bourama Sidibe and the really the whole team have to rebound well Thursday. Even though, Baylor is a guard-heavy team, rebounding could be Syracuse’s undoing again.
Potential Zone Gives SU Fits
Oh, the irony of typing that. Believe it or not, Syracuse might not be the only team running out a zone defense in this one. Baylor has played it more and more as the season has progressed due to injuries. It’s been a long-standing joke that Syracuse actually struggles when the opponent counters with that patented defense. It honestly could hold true, especially given SU has settle for threes a lot this year (74th most attempted in the country). Battle, Howard and the rest of the Orange need to get dribble penetration in order to get the win Thursday night.