The Syracuse Orange are the one-seed in their region, but there are seven other teams vying to head to the National Invitational Tournament Final Four at New York City’s Madison Square Garden as well.
Who might those seven be? And what do their team profiles look like? We take a quick glance at all of them.
No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs (19-14, 9-9 SEC)
The Dawgs were the Clemson of the SEC this year -- playing a lot of very good teams tight, but failing to ever get over the hump, and pick up that major win they needed for serious NCAA Tournament consideration. Their best wins may have been Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. While guard J.J. Frazier is the team’s leading scorer (18.5 points per game), Georgia’s forwards may create the bigger problems in a potential matchup with SU. Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide pull down nearly 15 combined boards each game. The forwards would be used to attack the Orange inside.
No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers (18-15, 7-11 Big Ten)
Indiana might be the most talented team in this field, but an underwhelming showing in conference play (and some bad coaching from Tom Crean at times) ultimately derailed their season. The Hoosiers own some high-quality wins -- North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, Northwestern -- but most of those are frontloaded. They’re a pretty solid team rebounding team (five players average four or more per game). Syracuse would need to lock down center Thomas Bryant (whom we’re familiar with) to find success in this matchup.
No. 4 Monmouth Hawks (27-6, 18-2 MAAC)
For the second straight year, Monmouth messed up a MAAC regular season title, and had to settle for a trip to the NIT. Syracuse beat the Hawks 71-50 earlier in the year, so in some ways, we already know what we would be getting in a hypothetical second round matchup. The team’s guard-heavy, as Justin Robinson and Micah Seaborn combine for nearly 33 points per game. But big Chris Brady could present some problems if the zone allows the Hawks to penetrate.
No. 5 Ole Miss Rebels (20-13, 10-8 SEC)
The Rebels have two big wins on the season (Vanderbilt, South Carolina), but other than that, the high total comes from a poor SEC slate. Still, Ole Miss is a high-scoring and big team that crashes the boards. That could present some potential issues for a matchup with Syracuse (if they can get past Monmouth). Sebastian Saiz presents a very scary matchup issue for the Orange. He’s a big, 6-foot-9 senior who averages 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Though he’s not a super efficient shooter, he’s a decent free throw shooter. That spells a lot of worry if we’re thinking of sticking Tyler Roberson on him.
No. 6 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-15, 8-10 ACC)
Tech will go as Ben Lammers goes, despite standout Josh Okogie taking many of the headlines as the team’s top scorer. Against Indiana, they don’t necessarily present a problematic matchup, which could spell an early loss. But as we’ve seen in each game against the Wreck, they go as their play on the inside goes. One would think Syracuse stands a good chance vs. GT at home. But perhaps they’re more motivated after the beating the Orange put on them last time around.
No. 7 Belmont Bruins (22-6, 15-1 Ohio Valley)
Belmont wasn’t near the at-large field but won the OVC’s regular season championship. They’re a well-coached group, and as I detailed over at the Comeback last month, they’re a brutally efficient two-point shooting team that could scare a lot of major conference opponents. We could be one of them, especially if Evan Bradds continues shooting over 60 percent and crashing the boards well. The Bruins could be a surprise team on the other side of the region given their less-scrappy focus on efficient shots over three-point shooting.
No. 8 UNC-Greensboro Spartans (25-9, 14-4 Southern)
Keeping things to the on-the-court stuff, Greensboro’s a team that racked up a big win total this year, but whose resume is largely built on two wins in three tries vs. East Tennessee State (they lost the third in the SoCon title game). The Spartans have some obvious motivations here, and an ability to crash the boards, so the ingredients are in place for a potential upset. Still, Syracuse has the clear scheme and talent advantage. It’ll just depend on how motivated they are.
Which potential NIT opponent are you most concerned about right now?