The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is back in the NCAA Tournament — this time as a No. 8 seed in the West Region. They’ll face the 9-seed Baylor Bears in round one, then potentially the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round. SU’s first two potential games will be in Salt Lake City, Utah. Should they manage to get past the first weekend, the Orange will be heading to Anaheim, Calif.
Syracuse was last in the West Region in 2010 — when they were a No. 1 seed and beat both Vermont and Gonzaga before losing to eventual national runner-up Butler (ugh) in the Sweet 16 in the same Salt Lake City we’ll play in this time around.
But this is obviously a whole new West region. So here’s a full rundown of the entire region we’re up against (in one way or another).
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Zags have been one of the top-ranked teams in the country all season, and are one of the only squads with a win over Duke with Zion Williamson on the floor (we happen to know another, obviously). Gonzaga plays well on the boards and forward Rui Hachimura could potentially eat us alive. They also shoot 36.5 percent from three as a team. We have beaten them in the NCAAs twice in the last decade, however, for whatever that’s worth.
No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
Last year’s national runner-up started off the year on a tear, and has come back to earth a bit since. However, the Wolverines still nearly won the Big Ten and would be on the shortlist of teams that could conceivably cut down the nets in the Final Four. Ignas Brazdeikis is one of the top freshmen in the country, and John Beilein’s also proven himself to be among the better March coaches of the past decade. Though still calling bullshit on the 2013 Final Four...
No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders tied for the Big 12 regular season title, then wound up getting upset in the league tournament. Still, this is an experienced group led by sophomore guard Jarrett Culver. The general style of offense may be familiar to Syracuse fans, since Tech plays at a similarly slow tempo to the Orange. That said, the Raiders move the ball a bit more (14 assists per game, vs. 12 for SU).
No. 4 Florida State Seminoles
We’re already familiar with FSU, after they jumped out to a huge lead against Syracuse at the Dome back in early February en route to an 80-62 victory. Terance Mann leads the way for the ‘Noles, but they’re a vary balanced scoring team overall — something that gives that a lot of different ways to beat opponents. I honestly thought they’d be more a 3-seed after their run to the ACC title game. Syracuse would potentially face FSU in the Sweet 16 if they can get that far.
No. 5 Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette has one of the country’s premier scorers in Markus Howard (25 points per game), and also rebound the ball very well while shooting a blistering 39.3 percent from outside as a team. That’s a recipe for blowing by the zone if they get to the Sweet 16 and see the Orange on the other side of the bracket. The Golden Eagles also own some pretty nice wins this year, including K-State, Buffalo, Villanova, Wisconsin and Seton Hall.
No. 6 Buffalo Bulls
Obviously we’re pretty familiar with the Bulls having faced them for the last two seasons. Last year’s win over Buffalo was a big part of how SU made the NCAAs. This year, Syracuse lost to UB... as most opponents did, since they went 31-3. They’re a high-scoring group at 84.9 points per game (which could pose some problems for the other teams in this region, including their potential second round foe TTU), and CJ Massinburg’s an impressive offensive talent. Buffalo’s actually pretty dangerous in this bracket.
No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack
The regular season Mountain West champs had top-10 aspirations to start the year, but also keep running into San Diego State, who dealt them two of their four losses this year and also knocked them out of the league tournament for the last two seasons. Senior Caleb Martin leads a very good offensive club (over 80 points per game) with 19.2 points per, and four Wolf Pack players score at least 11 per. Nevada takes a lot of high-percentage shots and can get very hot at times. They’d certainly pose an issue for the zone, but that would take an Elite 8 trip for both the Pack and SU.
No. 9 Baylor Bears
Syracuse’s first (and hopefully not last) opponent of the 2019 NCAA Tournament is slow, efficient and defensive-minded. So, us, but more effective on the offensive end. However, without Tristan Clark (out for the year), the Bears are a much more guard-centric team and one that’s not overly accurate from the field (44 percent field goal percent with Clark’s 73.7 percent included). They don’t have a true inside presence on offense and aren’t a great three-point shooting club. It’s not a bad matchup.
No. 10 Florida Gators
Florida’s in by way of a couple big upsets over LSU, plus a smattering of other quality victories. And while the 15 losses will certainly raise some eyebrows, the Gators are one of the better defensive teams in the country (14th, per KenPom) and play at one of the slowest paces in the country too. Not sure if they can knock off Nevada in round one, but every game will be a slog, in any case.
No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils
A familiar spot for ASU, as they faced us in the First Four last season as well. The Sun Devils finished second in the criminally weak Pac-12, but were knocked out early in the tournament by eventual champ Oregon. Arizona State remains the high-scoring team they were last season, however, averaging over 77 points per game, with six players scoring at least 8.7 points per.
No. 11 St. John’s Red Storm
St. John’s initially seemed bound for much more this year after beating Villanova and Marquette. But a 2-5 record mostly against the latter part of the Big East schedule to end the year certainly created a few doubts. Their tempo can match Arizona State’s in the First Four — which may not be a great thing for them (as SU proved last year, you can slow down the Sun Devils and take them out of their element). The Red Storm are a talented squad that could go on a run, though, if they regain their form from earlier in the year.
No. 12 Murray State Racers
Murray State split the Ohio Valley regular season title with Belmont, then won the league tournament to lock up an automatic bid. They’re also a dangerous double-digit seed, scoring 83.3 points per game and an impressive 27-4 record. Future lottery pick Ja Morant seems likely to turn a few heads this week. Marquette is not exactly the type of team that gets upset by a squad like Murray State (at least by style). The Racers could still end up a sleeper pick to go a couple rounds, though. I’d personally hate to face them.
No. 13 Vermont Catamounts
Still hate you, Vermont. Moving on: the America East champs are led by Anthony Lamb (21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds per game), while shooting well from inside to balance out some average outside percentages. They’re a pretty slow team with a top-100ish offense and defense. Don’t see them beating FSU, but they could be pesky based on how they performed against quality opponents this year.
No. 14 Northern Kentucky Norse
NKU doesn’t have much in the way of a strong resume, but is a high-scoring club with Drew McDonald (19.1 points per game) leading the way. They don’t seem like a potential Cinderella, but it could make for an interesting clash of styles between the Norse and Texas Tech in round one. Northern Kentucky tested Kentucky in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, however.
No. 15 Montana Grizzlies
Montana beat former Syracuse opponent Eastern Washington to win the Big Sky, capping off a 26-8 season where they won the regular season title by a game over Northern Colorado. Four different Grizzlies players score at least 13 points per game, with forward Jamar Akoh at the top of that list with 15.5. They’re a very guard-heavy team and don’t rebound incredibly well, though Montana also shoots threes at a pretty solid clip.
No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson Knights
Farleigh Dickinson ended the year on an eight-game winning streak to win the Northeast Conference regular season title and tournament. While they stand a low chance to pull the upset over Gonzaga should get past the play-in game, they’re a scorching-hot outside shooting team, hitting 40.4 percent of all threes. In fact, three regular rotation players hit 43 percent or better from outside.
No. 16 Prairie View A&M Panthers
Prairie View A&M capped an impressive 17-1 run through the SWAC with a tournament title — but still need to beat Farleigh Dickson to get through to face Gonzaga. Unlike the Knights, Prairie View gets by on solid two-point shooting and top-40 tempo (34th according to KenPom). They’re not great on the boards, however, so a potential Zags matchup becomes pretty tough.