Syracuse will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday evening at 9:10 p.m. (TruTV) against Arizona State. Ahead of the game, here are three things to look out for.
WHICH ARIZONA STATE TEAM WILL SHOW UP?
Arizona State started as the hottest team in college basketball, staying undefeated through its non-conference schedule. The Sun Devils racked up some marquee wins along the way, including an impressive 10 point win at then-No. 2 Kansas and also against then-No. 15 Xavier. As we all know now, both teams are No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
That remarkable run allowed Bobby Hurley’s team to rise to No. 3 in the country, the highest Arizona State has ever been ranked.
But AZU struggled mightily down the stretch, losing five of their last six games, and allowed a season worst 97 points to Colorado in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. That was a theme toward the end of the season, with the Sun Devils giving up at least 75 points in eight of their last nine games.
Will the Arizona State team that was the last undefeated team in college basketball show up to Dayton? Or will the team that struggled to defend down the stretch play Syracuse?
CAN SYRACUSE’S ZONE STIFLE THE SUN DEVIL BACKCOURT?
At the center of Arizona State’s rise (and subsequent fall) was senior Tra Holder. He was virtually unstoppable in non-conference play, scoring 40 points against Xavier and then another 29 against the Jayhawks.
He finished the season averaging 18.4 points, but he’s less than a month removed from the worst game of his career, where he went scoreless in 30 minutes in a 75-68 loss to Oregon.
Fellow guard Shannon Evans II finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 16.6 points, while making a Pac-12 best 91 3-pointers on 37.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
The duo helped Arizona State become one of the most potent offenses in the country at 83.5 points per game, good for 14th in the country. Conversely, the Sun Devils only averaged 14.2 assists per game, which placed them eighth in the Pac-12, and Arizona State lacks true inside scoring punch.
The key for any team unfamiliar with Syracuse will be how they handle the vaunted 2-3 zone. The Sun Devils clearly have a potent enough offense to score in bunches, but they may struggle to score if they can’t move the ball around well and attack the high post.
HOW WILL A YOUNG ORANGE TEAM HANDLE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS?
With the exception of Frank Howard, Syracuse’s entire roster is filled with players who have never played in a single NCAA Tournament game.
To be sure, the Orange players have played to the best of their ability this season in all situations, including the ACC Tournament in New York.
Freshmen Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj seem particularly resistant to any pressure situations, while Tyus Battle played his way into All-ACC Second Team honors a year after the Orange missed the NCAA Tournament.
Still, there’s the regular season and conference championships, and then there is the NCAA Tournament. I don’t see this team bowing to any kind of pressure, but it’s still worth monitoring.