Sunday evening, when the NCAA Tournament brackets were unveiled, Syracuse quickly found out their destiny and it had to be pleasing. Despite their struggles in the last month, the Orange still merited a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament and, while they did not end up in the East Regional, they still start off in nearby Buffalo, New York. SU is the third seed in the South Region, but their pod features a match-up with Western Michigan on Thursday with the winner moving on to take on the Ohio State-Dayton victor on Saturday.
WESTERN MICHIGAN PROFILE
Western Michigan, the 14-seed in the South, received an automatic bid into the tourney after winning the Mid-American Conference tournament. The Broncos finished strong, closing their 23-9 season by winning 13 of their last 14 games.
This trip to the NCAA’s is the fourth in WMU history and first since 2004. The Broncos are 2-3 overall in the NCAA Tournament. They played two teams who made the NCAA field earlier this season, defeating New Mexico State in their season opener on November 9 and falling to North Dakota State less than two weeks later.
In an odd quirk, this will be the Broncos’ second trip to Buffalo on the year, having dropped a game at conference rival Buffalo in late January. That game was at Buffalo’s on-campus arena, not the venue where they will meet Syracuse.
The Orange and Western Michigan shared two common opponents this season. SU defeated both Cornell and Eastern Michigan once each while the Broncos knocked off the former and split a season series with the latter with each team winning at home.
EMU is coached by Jim Boeheim disciple Rob Murphy, who employes the same 2-3 zone on defense that Syracuse uses. In those two matchups with Eastern Michigan, the Broncos shot a combined 34.9 percent from the floor and committed 42 turnovers, including 26 in the loss. Of note, though, was that in the game against EMU that they won, Western Michigan drew 31 fouls and shot 44 free throws (only four of those fouls came in the final minute when Eastern Michigan was fouling intentionally).
Western Michigan is a pretty good shooting team, finishing the season having made 46.6 percent of their shots from the field, good for 21st in the nation. They are not a particularly strong three-point shooting team, ranking 234th in the country at 33.2 percent on the season.
Aside from their shaky 3-point shooting, another issue for WMU is that they turn the ball over on 21.2 percent of their possessions and over half of those turnovers are steals made by the opponent. (Syracuse boasts the fourth-best steal rate in the country, forcing steals on 13.2 percent of all possessions on defense.)
Western Michigan is a pretty strong defensive squad, permitting their opponents to make only 40.8 percent of their shots from the field. While the Broncos did clamp down on 3-pointers (30.7 percent allowed), they did allow their foes to make 47.2 percent of their 2-point field goals.
Western Michigan is led by a pair of fifth-year seniors, David Brown and Shayne Whittington.
Brown led the MAC in scoring at 19.4 points per game, topped 25 points in a game eight times on the season (including a 32-point explosion in the MAC title game against Toledo), and has reached double figures in scoring in his last 35 games. The 6’4″ shooting guard also made 78 3-pointers and was named to the Mid-American Conference First Team.
Whittington, a 6’11” center, is a two-time Mid-American Conference first team performer This season, he averaged 16.3 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the floor. He is also a strong rebounder, grabbing 9.1 boards per outing as he logged 14 double-doubles on the season. Whittington also blocked 1.6 shots per game.
Connar Tava is the third Bronco averaging in double figures in scoring, tallying 12 points per game. The 6’6″ sophomore forward is very efficient, connecting on 60.4 percent of his shots. Austin Richie, a 6’3″ junior guard, is the team’s top perimeter shooter, making 41.2 percent of his three-point shots.
The Syracuse-Western Michigan game is set for an approximate time time of 2:45pm Eastern on Thursday (it will start approximate 30 minutes after the completing of the Ohio State-Dayton game. The game will be televised by CBS.