No. 3 seed Syracuse will face No. 14 seed Indiana State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Sycamores are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
How they got there: It wasn’t supposed to be this kind of year for Indiana State. Last year, the Sycamores (20-13, 12-6 MVC) went 17-15, their first winning season since 2001. Heading into this season, they were picked to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference. But the third seeded Sycamores exceeded every single expectation this season, finishing 20-13, and knocking off top seeded Missouri State, 60-56 in the Valley tournament final on Sunday.
Jake Kelly’s two free throws with 1.4 seconds sealed a victory that was mostly based on defense. Conference player of the year Kyle Weems was held to just 11 points on 3-for-16 shooting while the Bears as a team shot just 19 percent in the second half. The win continued the Sycamores’ winning ways. They’ve now won eight of their last nine games.
Meanwhile, the Orange (26-7, 12-6 Big East) is playing some of its best basketball of the season, as well. Prior to a 76-71 loss to Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, the Orange had won six in a row. Syracuse has gone to the Sweet 16 in two consecutive seasons, and this is SU coach Jim Boeheim’s 28th NCAA berth in 35 seasons.
Whom to watch for: Indiana State rises and falls with its redshirt freshman point guard Jake Odum. He averages 9.4 points per game, and a team high 4.0 assists and his success is linked directly to the Sycamore’s success.
During a five game losing streak from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5, Odum averaged nearly three turnovers a game. In a 71-65 loss to Morehead State on Feb. 19, Odum tied a season high with five turnovers while scoring just six points. But Odum had a great Valley tournament, averaging 12.3 points and 3.3 assists per game.
With Odum, the Sycamores have a decent chance at solving the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Indiana State shoots a combined 36.3 percent from 3-point land, led by Aaron Carter (34 percent) and Jordan Printy (48 percent).
Key matchup: Indiana State center Myles Walker is the Sycamore’s key inside man. Walker led the team in blocks, averaging nearly one a game, and will be called upon to try to limit Rick Jackson down low. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound center is physically equipped to guard Jackson, but will need to also be smart with his fouls. Walker had 96 during the regular season, and had 13 games where he had four or more fouls which explains why he averages just over 23 minutes a game.
Quote to note: “The Indiana State program hasn’t been where it was supposed to be and this group of guys took it back there.” – Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing to reporters after the game.
Historically speaking: These teams have never faced each other. The Sycamores haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2001. Back then, the No. 13 seeded Sycamores upset No. 4 Oklahoma in the first round before going out to Gonzaga. This year the Sycamores have played three NCAA tourmament teams – Notre Dame, Purdue and Moorehead State – and lost to all three.