Record: 19-13 (9-9)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 10 (Midwest)
How they got to the Big Dance
Syracuse was one the most surprising bubble teams who made this year’s tournament. After losing five of their last six games, everyone except the committee believed they should be left out of the Big Dance. The Orangemen started the year off hot, winning their first six games, including ranked wins against No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M. Their six-game winning streak was followed by a pair of losses to Wisconsin in overtime and on the road against Georgetown. In games against other ranked opponents, Syracuse was able to beat Duke and Notre Dame, while losing to North Carolina (twice), Virginia and Miami. The Orangemen’s 9-9 conference record earned them the No. 9 seed in the ACC tournament. However, they would drop their third consecutive game in a 72-71 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round of the tournament.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
I don’t think even Syracuse thought they would be heading to the tournament after they finished the season so poorly. So look for Syracuse to take advantage of this surprise. The Orangemen make the 37th most 3-pointers in the NCAA, sinking 8.8 per game. They do so at a fairly efficient rate of 36.1 percent. If Syracuse can continue to hit their threes, there’s no reason they couldn’t advance in the tournament. The Orangemen’s defense can be stingy as well. They force their opponents to cough up the ball 8.1 times per game, which ranks 16th in the nation. Syracuse also doesn’t foul much. Their opponents only score 11.2 points per game from the free-throw line. If Syracuse can play solid defense, their experience against the country’s top competition in ACC can help them come tournament time.
Why they aren’t a legitimate contender
Although the Orangemen have experience against several Top 50 teams, they didn’t play very well in these games. In fact, Syracuse was 5-10 in matchups against Top 50 teams in the country, one of the reasons why many believed Syracuse should not have gotten an at-large bid. This record might indicate what is to come in the tournament for Syracuse. It also isn’t easy to win when you’re a bad free throw shooting team and a bad rebounding team. The Orangemen make only 68.3 percent of their free throws, which ranks 239th in the country. Free throws could play a huge role in the tournament, which does not favor Syracuse. As for rebounding, they’re average at best. They allow 10.9 offensive rebounds per game, which ranks 329th in the country. Perhaps that’s why so many Top 50 teams were able to beat the Orangemen this year. Syracuse will not go far, or even win a game, if they allow their opponents to control the offensive glass.
Player to watch- F Michael Gbinije
The 6-foot-7 senior forward is a must-watch player for the Syracuse Orange. He averages a team-high 17.8 points and 4.4 assists per game. He also adds 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals to his contributions. He shoots effectively from the field, sinking 47.7 percent of his shots, including 40.9 percent from behind the 3-point arc. If you’re looking for some of his weaknesses, he turns the ball over more than anyone on his team and shoots below 70 percent from the free-throw line. Over his last four games, he’s averaged 24.0 points per game, a clear increase in his scoring totals. If he is able to continue this level of play, his offensive and defensive contributions may be enough to get Syracuse past the first weekend.
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