Teams: Syracuse Orange (7-4, 0-0) vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (5-6, 0-0 Sun Belt)
Day & Time: Saturday, Dec. 22 at 2 p.m. EST
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Line: N/A. ESPN BPI gives Syracuse an 96.4-percent chance of beating the Red Wolves.
Radio: Syracuse IMG Network, WAER 88.3, Sirius XM 381
Arkansas State blog: Underdog Dynasty
Current Streak: N/A
First Meeting: They’ve never played each other, y’all.
Last Meeting: C’mon on, now, you know there wasn’t a last meeting because there wasn’t a first meeting.
Head Coaches: SU: Jim Boeheim (43rd year, 1,034-374); Arkansas State: Mike Balado (2nd year, 15-27)
Coach Bio: Mike (I have no idea if anyone calls him this, but here goes) “Baldy” Balado played his college ball at NAIA St. Thomas in Florida. After graduation in 1998, Balado joined the coaching ranks as an assistant, first at Augusta State as a GA, and then at Southridge (high school), Nova Southeastern, Miami Dade and then from 2005 to 2008 at Florida Atlantic.
Baldy jumped up to Miami for a year before moving to High Point for three seasons (09-12). After a season at FIU, Balado served as an assistant for Rick Pitino at Louisville from 2013 until 2017. You might not have heard, but Pitino was fired before the start of the 2017-18 season. No matter for Baldy, as he was named head coach at Arkansas State.
Last Year: The Red Wolves went just 11-21 overall and 6-12 in the Sun Belt, placing them second-to-last in the conference. Deven Sims led Arkansas State in scoring with 17.1 points per game, but was dismissed from the team in February. Ty Cockfield (14.9 points per game) was the second-leading scorer for the Red Wolves. Tamas Bruce averaged more than five rebounds per game last year (5.7).
Last Game: Arkansas State won its second straight game by taking down Missouri State, 71-63. It was also the second victory in a row when making less than 35 percent from the field. Why does that matter? Well, Baldy’s team had previously lost 23 in a row when not hitting at least 35 percent.
Senior guard Grantham Gillard made four of five shots from three and scored 17 points, while adding eight boards for the Red Wolves. Christian Willis and Marquis Eaton, sophomore guards, each also contributed 13 points in the win.
Ty Cockfield, the leading returning scorer, had his six-game 20-points-or-more streak come to an end. The six-foot senior suffered through a poor shooting game, tallying just eight points for Arkansas State.
In the victory, the Red Wolves also snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Bears.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: Cockfield has the experience and talent to potentially create issues for the Orange. He’s averaging 21.3 points and just under four rebounds per game. Cockfield is also shooting 45-percent from the field, about 44 percent from distance, and is an 81.4 percent free-throw shooter. If there is one player to key in on, Cockfield is probably just that player.
Gillard is also a potential threat to Jim Boeheim’s zone. He’s made 58 of his 99 three-point attempts so far this season. Gillard went 0-7 from three against FAU, but nailed four of five in win over Missouri State on Tuesday night.
If Syracuse Wins: Honestly, a win probably doesn’t register much around here right now. Beating a lowly Sun Belt team, one that might not even crack the top 300 in KenPom, doesn’t enter the Orange radar. That goes doubly given Syracuse’s two-game losing streak and the fact that the team is, as of right now, looking more NIT than NCAA. A win is essentially like breathing, it should just happen. A loss, on the other hand?
If Syracuse Loses:
Fun Fact No. 1: Arkansas State has only earned one NCAA Tournament berth (six time at the DII level and twice at the NAIA level back in the 40s), a first-round loss to Utah in 1999. However, it has gone to the NIT four times. The Red Wolves have advanced to the quarters of the NIT twice, first in 1988 and then again in 1991.
Fun Fact No. 2: Arkansas State has had one player make it to the National Basketball Association (Patrick Eddie). But did you know that it has produced several NFL players? The Red Wolves have connections to several NFL franchises through the years.
Fun Fact No. 3: The Red Wolves from Arkansas State were actually known as the Indians until 2008.