We all love brackets and seeding, and especially when the seeds, you know, make sense. That didn't happen with the NCAA Tournament this year, but our lovely sponsor for this post has achieved that with the Allstate "BFF Brackets" game, which takes your top 64 Facebook friends (culled with an actual algorithm based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, just like with the real tourney. From there your friends advance through the brackets with the corresponding seeds in the real tournament, until one is left standing. At which point you and that friend are entered in a sweepstakes to win a trip to New Orleans. Huzzah. If you're a Facebook user, you can check it out here.
Sunday was an up and down experience for Syracuse fans as they watched the Orange get seeded in the NCAA Tournament. The Orange got what they (and we) wished for, a 3-seed. But it came at a price. Instead of Washington, D.C, where we were hoping to go, SU was shipped off to Cleveland. Furthermore, they have a showdown looming in the Round of 32 against either a team that's possibly-underseeded or a team that's already beaten them.
And that's before the Orange get to the Regional, where things really crazy.
So what does the Road to Houston really look like and what are Syracuse's chances?
We start where everything starts, the opening round. (Well, it's not the opening round anymore, but, you know what I mean). The Orange face-off against the Indiana State Sycamores. There are very few gimmes these days in the Tourney and this isn't one of them. ISU is hot, they won their conference tournament and they played Purdue & Notre Dame tough. The Orange cannot afford to take them lightly. That said, we all expect them to win.
From there, it's either going to be 6-seed Xavier or 11-seed Marquette on Sunday.
By most accounts, Xavier is underseeded here. The Musketeers finished 24-7 (15-1) and were stunned in the A-10 quarters on a late free-throw. They beat Seton Hall (who split the season series with SU) and lost to Cincinnati (by 20!). Aside from similar opponents, they also beat Butler and lost a close one at Florida. They feature a whole mess of 3-point shooters that can cause fits for the Orange.
In case they get upset, the Orange will face Big East foe Marquette instead. You might remember the Eagles for their 76-70 win over SU on National Marquette Day. This time they game would be on neutral ground (or Syracuse-adjacent). The Eags know the secret to beating the Orange is to rain down three-pointers like thunderbolts from Zues. Question is, will lightning strike twice?
Should the Orange emerge, they'll likely do so by crawling to freedom through five hundred yards of sh**-smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to. The good news is that they'll have crawled all the way to the Regionals in Newark where "home court" kicks back in.
When the Orange make it to Newark, they're going to have some options.
15-seed Long Island University, if you guys happen to make it all the way there, we might just have to lay down for you cause that's too good a story. Well, maybe not...
10-seed Georgia limped into the NCAAs as a talented-yet-flawed SEC team. They played Florida and Notre Dame close but they also have a lot of bad losses to their credit. They can shoot the ball (45.5%) and they can play defense, holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting. But they lack discipline and aren't terribly deep. They're just not built for a deep run.
7-seed Washington would scare you more if you knew anything about them. Take it from a guy who lives in Seattle and has to listen to Husky talk every day on the radio...Isaiah Thomas is the real-deal. He's got a lot of Kemba Walker qualities to him and can change a game. Tempo and momentum are the key to beating UW. Let them control the game and watch the 3-pointers and transition buckets fly. If you control the tempo, you can shut them down.
Finally, 2-seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels kinda snuck their way into this spot, if you ask me. Early in the season they lost games to the likes of Minnesota and Vandy. Once the calendar switched to 2011, they became a new team and they've only lost three times in the new year. They rode a 9-game winning streak into the ACC title game before losing to Duke. It might be odd to say this but the Heels lack tournament experience, with only two players on the roster who were around for their last appearance. To be fair, that team also won the National Title.
Chances are the Orange are looking at Washington or North Carolina, though stranger things have happened. The name of the game will be controlling the tempo and transition while limiting three-point baskets. Do that and the Orange can beat any of these teams.
If and when they do make it to the Elite 8, the pool of possible opponents grows even larger. If we make some fair assumptions, here's what we get.
No one expects 9-seed Villanova to make it that far. In fact most people are probably picking them to lose in the first round. That's usually exactly why they're going to win a game (or two).
5-seed West Virginia is trying to repeat as a Final Four team. They don't seem to have all the parts like they did last year and it would require the kind of play we haven't really seen out of them in order to make it.
4-seed Kentucky could be a trendy pick to work their way into the Elite 8 for a historical re-match with the Orange. Wildcat fans are livid over what they perceive to be a low seed. Only one way to prove it.
And of course, that leaves 1-seed Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the odds-on favorite (7-2) to win the whole she-bang. They are Big Ten Champions. They are 32-2 and ride into the tournament on a 7-game winning streak. The feature All-World player Jared Sullinger and they have an array of three-point shooters at their disposal. It will require a feat of strength unseen until now for the Orange to emerge in this one. Bring on the challenge.
After that, it's off to Houston where SU could face any number of teams. We'll leave that discussion for another day. One we hope comes pretty soon.