The Syracuse Orange will play the Arizona State Sun Devils in the First Four this Wednesday. If they can get past ASU, they’ll be looking at a pretty crowded Midwest region, including quite a few familiar faces. Syracuse has faced five different teams in the Midwest bracket, plus TCU’s Jamie Dixon is also pretty familiar with the Orange as well.
A brief look at all 16 teams we’re sharing this space with. Hopefully we get to face quite a few of them in the coming weeks.
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
KU beat Syracuse 76-60 earlier this season down in Miami, as the Jayhawks exploited the young Orange defense from three for much of the game. Since then, Kansas won yet another Big 12 regular season title, and then the conference tournament as well. They’re one of the highest-scoring teams in the country and present a big challenge to every team in their corner of the bracket.
No. 2 Duke Blue Devils
Duke pummeled the Orange, 60-44 down at Cameron Indoor and we don’t want to face them again -- nor does anyone else. The Blue Devils are a top-10 scoring team, have improved on defense since switching to zone, and can out-rebound just about anyone. They’re probably the favorite to come out of the Midwest.
No. 3 Michigan State Spartans
MSU’s only lost once since January 20, are strong defensively and on the boards, plus can move the ball well too (they’re the best team in the country in terms of assists per game). The Big Ten’s down this year, but the Spartans competed with the league’s best and beat Purdue. Should Syracuse beat ASU and TCU, they’d likely be up against Sparty -- the team they would’ve faced in 2016 had MSU taken care of business against Middle Tennessee.
No. 4 Auburn Tigers
Auburn has struggled a bit in recent weeks against the best teams in the SEC, but they’ve still put in a quality effort all season, tying for the regular season title. They’re another high-scoring team, but struggle defensively. If opponents can get to 75 points against the Tigers, it’s probably an L for Auburn.
No. 5 Clemson Tigers
Without Donte Grantham, Clemson hasn’t been the same team, but that didn’t stop them from getting to the ACC Tournament semifinals. Syracuse stifled the Tigers, 55-52 at the Carrier Dome to close out the season, providing a glimpse of how you can shut them down offensively. Not trolling, but they’re a prime upset pick against NMSU in round one.
No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs
The Frogs return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades, on the strength of Jamie Dixon’s expert job turning this program around. Unlike those Pitt teams Dixon used to helm, this TCU squad is actually high-scoring (83 points per game). Dixon hasn’t lost to the Orange since Tyler Ennis’s buzzer-beater in 2014. He was 15-6 against Syracuse while coaching the Panthers.
No. 7 Rhode Island Rams
Rhody nearly screwed us today after losing to Davidson in the A-10 final. But looking at their full body of work, they were an excellent team all season, with wins over Seton Hall and Providence, plus a conference regular season championship. The Rams are led by Jared Terrell, and have a balanced attack behind him. They’re dangerous and could be underestimated.
No. 8 Seton Hall Pirates
Seton Hall has a nice collection of quality wins on the year, and pushed Villanova to the brink near the end of the regular season, losing 69-68. This Pirates squad is high-scoring (nearly 80 points per game), but they do struggle defensively. Nine of their last 10 opponents have scored 70 or more points against them (6-6 in those games).
No. 9 NC State Wolfpack
State was stunned by BC in the ACC Tournament, otherwise they might have been in play to move up a couple lines. We’re familiar with the Pack, having lost to them 74-70 in the Dome, and while they’re beatable -- they’re also able to hang with anyone. NC State has wins over UNC, Duke, Clemson and Arizona, which is among the most impressive top-four victories for any team in the country.
No. 10 Oklahoma Sooners
Behind Trae Young, the Sooners started the season hot, then eventually crashed back to earth. Oklahoma is 2-8 in their last 10, playing hardly any defense at all while struggling to keep up the offensive pace of the early part of the season. URI will be a quick test to see if the late issues were a mirage or reality.
No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils
Syracuse’s first NCAA Tournament foe looks a lot like Oklahoma, starting red-hot and was even getting hype for a No. 1 ranking. Then the wheels fell off defensively and ASU has lost five of their last six. The Sun Devils are a top-40 tempo team and average nearly 84 points per game. It’ll be an interesting juxtaposition of pace and style between Arizona State and the Orange.
No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies
NMSU was on everyone’s radar early in the year, beating Miami, but a two-game losing streak in the WAC derailed any at-large talk. They’re a staunch team defensively (63.8 points allowed per game) and on the boards (41.5 rebounds per game). The Aggies also bring a dynamic scorer to the table in Zach Lofton, who puts up nearly 20 per contest. They’re a bad matchup for Clemson.
No. 13 Charleston Cougars
The CAA champs can’t be pegged to one style of basketball, showing abilities to win a number of different ways. Charleston hung with Rhode Island earlier this year, and also played Wichita State, so big opponents won’t necessarily scare them off. The major question is whether they can keep up with Auburn’s tempo in round one — they’re actually one of the slowest teams in the country despite putting up points at a reasonable clip.
No. 14 Bucknell Bison
The high-flying Bison flew through Patriot League play, dominating Colgate in the conference championship game. While they haven’t taken down any major opponents this year, Bucknell was able to play teams like North Carolina and Maryland close. They also average over 81 points per game. An upset over MSU would be tough, though far from impossible.
No. 15 Iona Gaels
Iona hung around against Syracuse back in November, falling 71-62 at the Carrier Dome. Since then, they were fairly middling in MAAC going 11-7, but got hot in the league tournament to lock down a bid. The Gaels are another high-scoring team in this region, averaging 79.8 points per game.
No. 16 Pennsylvania Quakers
Penn won a thrilling Ivy final over Harvard to make the field, and have a couple reasonably nice wins over Monmouth and Dayton. The Quakers are a balanced scoring team with four players in double digits, but overall wouldn’t be considered a great offensive squad. That’s problematic against Kansas.