When the NIT bracket rolled out on Sunday night, we figured that the Syracuse Orange’s second round opponent would be the Monmouth Hawks, who we beat 71-50 back in non-conference play.
That required us to beat the UNC-Greensboro Spartans (TBD tonight), but the fact that Monmouth was familiar was both encouraging and frightening all at once.
Instead, the Hawks messed that up, as they seem to do in the postseason these last few years. Monmouth fell to Ole Miss 91-83 on Tuesday.
Just a quick glance at the box score from last night shows that Ole Miss probably presents the greater challenge for the Orange should the two teams meet on short rest (for SU) on Thursday. The Rebels’ Sebastian Saiz is exactly the type of big who could terrorize Syracuse on the inside. He scored 23 points, and added 11 rebounds against the Hawks. He also went 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
Ole Miss can hit free throws as a team, and their big man hitting 10 could spell trouble if SU needs an extra body on him inside. Taurean Thompson and Tyler Roberson can’t always stay out of foul trouble. So contact with Saiz could end up a deadly combination for Syracuse’s potential success.
Saiz has been doing this all year, averaging 15 points and 11 boards -- that’s not the matchup you want if you’re a team without a true center.
Elsewhere, DeAndre Burnett was 4-of-8 from three and chipped in 17 points. The Rebels had a balanced attack against Monmouth, with five players ending up in double figures. Again, that’s not exactly what the zone wants to see. Syracuse, especially this team, has been better one the opposing offense runs through one or two wing players. When foes have a bevy of options, AND a strong center, things can go off the rails quickly.
The differentiator for the Orange will largely be motivation, along with potential fatigue playing back-to-back games (even at home).
Syracuse has played well at home this season, but has not played two games in two days, as they’ll do if they defeat UNC-Greensboro. If they can motivate themselves past the disappointment of missing the NCAAs and win that first game, it should spell good things for the Ole Miss matchup. Outside of Andrew White, the Orange’s guards never really got going in the team’s previous game against Miami. Up against a bigger team like Ole Miss, that one-dimensional scoring proposition won’t be the way to go.
Tyler Lydon, who was not all that present against the ‘Canes, will also be a key to a potential win over Ole Miss. While the matchup isn’t a great one for him (and Thompson and Roberson) against a bigger team, he can use his length and versatility on the perimeter to keep the Rebels guessing. That could open up White and John Gillon for open shots -- when White, particularly, is most effective.
For Gillon, the paint will prove crowded (and that’s where his game thrives). He can make himself useful as a distributor, however, if he ends up being largely pushed to the perimeter.
We’ll have a larger preview of the game tomorrow if Syracuse pulls off a win tonight. In the meantime, take this as an initial look at the Rebs and the potential challenges they can pose.