All signs pointed to Syracuse making the NCAA Tournament, but avoiding the First Four was a gift not many saw coming. Sunday morning experts had the Orange slated for the play-in games. But when the brackets were unveiled, at 6:27p ET Syracuse had its draw. A Round of 64 matchup against San Diego State in the 6/11 game. Winner would likely get 3-seed West Virginia.
So how does Syracuse stack up against the Aztecs? San Diego State:
- Went 23-4
- Won the Mountain West regular season
- Beat Utah State 68-57 in the Mountain West Championship Game
- Have gone 53-6 over the last two seasons
- Won its last 14 games in a row
- Trailed in the second half in only one of those 14
- 18th in the NCAA’s NET and ESPN’s BPI
- 20th in Kenpom, 21st in Sagarin
- Is 6-3 all-time in the Big Dance as the higher seed
- The Aztecs are winless as the lower seed (underdog) at 0-9
SU will need to limit Matt Mitchell, the Aztec’s leading scorer. He’s the go-to point producer for San Diego State, averaging about 15 points per game. Buddy Boeheim’s terrific play in March needs to continue for SU to advance. The Aztecs rely on great defense, allowing only 60 points per game, compared to 70 points per game for SU. Seth Davis on the CBS Selection Show predicted the Aztecs dance into the Elite 8.
Syracuse’s two regular season wins to finish out the season, plus the blowout of NC State was apparently enough for the committee to overlook a rather unimposing resume. The up-and-down season was propped up with a tight game against Virginia in the ACC Tournament, proving SU could play with one of the best in the league.
The early returns on SU were brutal, but the final impression was strong enough to get the Orange in. SU’s recent tourney success as a bubble team may have also factored in. Undoubtedly, SU was helped by Louisville playing only 20 games. Many pundits had the Cardinals listed ahead of SU, but the committee disagreed. At the end of the day, the anxiety over whether SU would get in was overblown. Not only did the Orange get a spot in the Big Dance, it avoided the First Four as well.