On Friday evening, the 11-seed Syracuse Orange take on the 6-seed TCU Horned Frogs in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They’re playing at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, so Marek Dolezaj should feel right at home.
But before the game, it’s worth pointing out the biggest storylines and matchups to pay attention to. Here are your five things to watch when Syracuse tips off against TCU.
TCU’s both high-scoring and efficient
Both TCU and Arizona State averaged about 83 points per game this season, yet both teams got there in very different ways. ASU went with volume and outside shooting as its main driver, while TCU’s taken a good deal of shots, but also been super efficient.
When up against the Sun Devils, Syracuse was able to keep them outside while dictating the tempo. ASU attempted 793 threes on the year, but made 36.3 percent of them. The Frogs shoot threes, but they’re far more efficient there and are unlikely to just chuck it from 30 feet out. TCU has hit 40 percent of shots from beyond the arc in 2017-18, out of 677 attempts.
They’re also a great scoring team from two. The Horned Frogs are near 50 percent (49.9) in total field goal percentage this year -- good for eighth in the country. TCU is also the eighth-most efficient offense in the country, via KenPom. All of this hints at a significantly tougher job than the one SU just pulled off vs. Arizona State.
Syracuse’s inside scoring
It was the same story all year: If Syracuse played isolation ball on the outside and settled for late threes/mid-range jumpers, they’d lose. If they drove the lane and tried to draw contact in the paint, they’d at least stand a better chance to come away with a win.
TCU isn’t a great defensive team, but they’re not terrible either, slotting in just above 100 in KenPom’s efficiency ratings. That said, they’re 274th in opponent field goal percentage in the country. Teams have not only been able to drive the lane against the Frogs, but they’ve hit those shots at a pretty reasonable clip. Syracuse obviously isn’t the best shooting team around. But that vulnerability for the Frogs should give the Orange a clear green light to attack early and pull the defense in a bit (freeing up more open looks outside later).
Can’t get into early foul trouble
Against UNC, early foul trouble doomed the Orange, as Paschal Chukwu had to come out in favor of the less defensively-included Bourama Sidibe, and then ended up exiting the game by early in the second half anyway. We thought we were headed toward a similar fate early against ASU, but after some quick fouls by Chukwu and Oshae Brissett, things settled down and Syracuse ended up with 16 on the game (three for each starter, plus one for Sidibe).
This shouldn’t be news, but Syracuse doesn’t really have much wiggle room to deal with foul trouble. Despite his offensive inefficiencies, Chukwu’s our best interior defender and can’t be hindered by needing to be less physical on the glass and attempting to block shots. TCU has Vladimir Brodziansky on the inside, and guard Kenrich Williams is big and will play in the paint. Chukwu’s going to have his hands full against these more agile players, and the Frogs will likely test him early. The difference between a win and a loss may not be stopping those players from scoring every time near the rim. But rather, avoiding fouling so he can put in a more physical effort later on.
Can Brissett repeat his performance from the First Four?
We know that Tyus Battle can take over a game, but Brissett finding success from the floor has more often than not been a larger indicator of Syracuse competing late and potentially winning. The UNC ACC Tournament game aside, SU is 7-3 in the other games in which he’s scored 17 or more points. He’s put up at least 20 in two straight games, including 23 and 12 rebounds against ASU.
What he does that Battle can’t is really control the paint on both ends, cleaning up on the glass and tipping in offensive rebounds. That was huge against the Sun Devils, and if he has room to operate against TCU, it’ll be critical here too. His size, versus that of Battle and Frank Howard, also allows him to take a bit more contact and (again) pull the defense in more to prevent him from getting that lane.
Can’t let TCU get a passing lane
Beyond just having Jamie Dixon, the Frogs are well-situated to bust the zone because of their style of play. Their 18.8 assists per game are second in the country (only to potential second round foe Michigan State), which bodes well for them executing a similar offensive attack to what Pitt’s teams used to do against Syracuse. The Panthers were constantly cutting and causing chaos in the middle of the zone. A quality passing team can more quickly turn that chaos into success at the basket.
Where the Orange can counter this is with its own strength stealing the basketball. SU is 67th in the country in terms of steals per game (7.2) and also has the ACC’s steals leader in Howard. The longer SU’s guards can have TCU operating on the outside, the larger the chance they’ll be able to interrupt those passing lanes that the Frogs need to really run their offense. Steals also set up the Orange fastbreak, which is a rarity but a factor that also makes this offense significantly more dynamic when it occurs.