Quick, tell me three things you know about the Western Michigan Broncos? And no, those things can't be that they are not, in fact, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan or Actual Michigan.
We enlisted some help from the indomitable SB Nation MAC Blog Hustle Belt to find out more about these mysterious Mid-Americans. Questions and answers below (and look for our A's to their Q's over there).
We've already beaten Eastern Michigan this season. Why will beating the Western version be so much tougher?
You mean besides the fact we ran train on (most) of the rest of the MAC, including powerhouses Akron, Ohio, and (for the most part) Toledo? We actually have an offense that can score. Eastern Michigan's offense, for whatever reason with all of their transfer talent, cannot hit a shot for the life of them. In fact, their second game against us, they scored 67 points, and that's because their back-up point guard got hot in the 2nd half and kept them in it. Western Michigan has gone scorching hot as of late in the 2nd half, starting with a Central Michigan game where they shot 89% from the floor in the first 18 minutes of the half before putting in the deep bench.
This Western Michigan team is more disciplined and generally takes fewer fouls. Their center can play defense (not as good as De'Shonte Riley, but still good) AND score by both attacking the rim and hitting the mid-range jumper. They have guards that can knock down shots from all over the court, and draw fouls by driving the paint. They are patient and try not to settle. Basically, they're smarter than Eastern Michigan all-around.
It's been a long, strange trip for WMU head coach Steve Hawkins. What do fans think of him and is he going to still be there in three years?
Steve Hawkins is a life-long Bronco in my opinion. Fans were on the "Well where's the success" train earlier this year, and this team has shut up all haters. This season is arguably his best. His first year's team had a boatload of talent and a stud guard in Ben Reed who could score at will. This year, he had a shooting guard with a bad knee who came off the bench last year, a point guard who wasn't a floor general, and no height inside besides Shayne Whittington after Darius Paul bolted for Illinois (the 3rd transfer in as many years following Matt Stainbrook to Xavier and Juwan Howard Jr to Detroit).
What happened? David Brown did what we hoped he would do and just score buckets. However, freshman Tucker Haymond blossomed in MAC play, sophomore Connar Tava (pronounced tay-VEE) is deceptively good at the power forward spot, and Austin Richie has ran the floor at times when need be and hasn't been forcing as many shots. I'd like to think Hawkins is behind all of that. Also, this team can now actually play halfway decent against the zone and press, something that was like kryptonite to former teams.
Also, Hawkins has done all of this while going in and out of assistant coaches for years. Most notably, Bacari Alexander left after the David Kool days (the WMU all-time leading scorer who graduated in 2010) and is now doing the final pre-game hype speeches at Michigan. Sorry to bring back bad memories. Don't hurt me!
What kind of WMU fan presence do you expect? Should we be worried about University of Buffalo fans joining the WMU bandwagon?
I wish Buffalo would attend. But honestly, you have to worry more about the OSU and Dayton fans. WMU will probably bring about 50-100 fans. However, everyone not in orange will be heavily rooting for the team in brown and gold. It happens to all the high seeds. No matter what you do, you're the bad guy. Everyone wants to see the upset, and everyone will be cheering for it. You know it, I know it, your dog knows it, your girlfriend might know it..... Moving on...
Easiest way to beat Syracuse is to shoot the lights out from three. Who's the most likely person or persons to do that?
For WMU, they have generally solid shooters in Brown and Richie. Brown is obviously the main man, and if he's cold, WMU is doomed. Richie tends to be hesitant and isn't always solid and Haymond isn't the best shooter, but can hit some 3's at times. Another guy to look out for is Kellen McCormick. He is a 6-8 forward who usually comes in for Whittington, but he isn't really a solid big man. He does however have a solid jumper, and can shoot over a zone like Syracuse's. Hidden weapon maybe?
Inevitably, an unknown, probably-white bench player will have the game of his life, score 20+ points and lead WMU to an improbable victory. Which Bronco will that be?
Re: Kellen McCormick. Also, we know the starting 5 all can score on any given night, so we do have to dive into the bench. Other players we could see do that start at Jared Klein. The back-up point guard has been seeing dwindling minutes down the stretch, but still has a decent jump-shot. Taylor Perry, the starter when Haymond was out with a fractured foot or something like that, is a solid defender and can sometimes hit a shot, but I wouldn't count on him being the offensive game-changer. AJ Avery is a clumsy power forward off the bench, but he's solid athletically. Just can't catch a ball or dribble to save his life.
Prediction for the game?
If Western Michigan is hanging around with about 5 minutes to go, Orange fans should be VERY worried. This Bronco team has been closing games down the stretch, and the 14/3 upset would be in sight. I really want to pick my Broncos to win this one. I do. The Orange have been struggling in their past 8-9 games and really look like a shell of the team that started 25-0. Western Michigan on the other hand has been working into the team they've become and seem so solid all-around.
However, I can't. The fact the Broncos can't seem to shoot against a zone well really worries me, and I expect Boeheim to finally get Syracuse to get back to their mid-season form where they are thumping opponents here in Buffalo. Too many 'Cuse fans as well to drown out the pro-WMU fans, and Syracuse covers the spread. Syracuse 69 - Western Michigan 54
Head on over to Hustle Belt for more info on WMU and the game.