On Selection Sunday, it was announced that Syracuse squeaked into March Madness, with its first game against sixth-seeded San Diego State. With the matchup, Syracuse avoided a First Four game, instead focusing for its round of 64 matchup.
The Aztecs (23-4) won the Mountain West Conference Championship over Utah State, 68-57. All season long San Diego State relied on its defense, ranking eleventh in adjusted defense, behind forward Nathan Mensah — who is one of the best shot blockers in the country.
Only three teams scored at least 70 points on the Aztecs this season, while BYU’s 72 points against SDSU on Dec. 18 were the most anyone has scored on San Diego State. While the Aztecs defense is elite, its offense is also one of the better offenses in the country, ranking 44th in adjusted offense according to Kenpom. Unfortunately for SU — which tends to pull off upsets due to the 2-3 zone — San Diego State rarely turns the ball over. It’s also a very efficient perimeter shooting team, knocking down 37.5% of its threes. For comparison, Baylor — which downed SU in 2019 behind 16 triples — only shot 34.8% from behind the arc.
Regardless, San Diego State has only played two teams (Utah State, BYU) ranked inside Kenpom’s top 40 teams all season. While the Atlantic Coast Conference was down this season, it’s still a far deeper and talented conference than the Mountain West, which could benefit SU in the early minutes of the contest.
Throughout the season, Syracuse has also begun to inch out its zone by moving the forwards higher up, allowing the guards to cover further out on the wings. Against SDSU, Kadary Richmond’s defense could be vital — particularly against sharpshooters Jordan Schakel and Terrell Gomez who are both shooting over 40%.
On offense, Syracuse needs to take advantage of quick shots, particularly from behind the arc. Another Buddy Boeheim lights-out shooting performance could be pivotal for the Orange to advance. But besides Boeheim, SU likely needs another player or two to step up. Alan Griffin struggled during the ACC tournament, but the NCAA Tournament is a chance to redeem himself.