Day & Time: Thursday, March 21, at approximately 9:57 p.m. ET (almost definitely later than that)
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
Line: Syracuse opened as a two-point favorite over the Bears and ESPN’s BPI gives the Orange a 51.8 percent-chance of beating Baylor.
TV/Streaming: truTV/March Madness Live
Radio: Syracuse IMG Network, WAER 88.3, SiriusXM: 203
Baylor blog: Our Daily Bears
Rivalry: 2-0, Syracuse
Current Streak: I’m no math-magician, but I’ll say it’s two straight for the Orange
First Meeting: Demetris Nichols lit into the Bears back in December of 2006. Playing inside the Carrier Dome, the senior scored a career-best 28 points as Syracuse beat Baylor, 94-71. Nichols opened the second half by pouring in 10 consecutive points in just over two and a half minutes.
Meanwhile, the Bears dropped another game to a ranked opponent, making it 23 straight defeats to teams inside the top 25. And to make matters worse, Baylor experienced flight issues, missed scheduled time at the Dome the night before the game and had to wear Syracuse gear during a pregame practice because the Bears’ clothes were back in Waco, Texas.
Outside of Nichols’ stellar night, the Orange also saw double-figure-scoring totals from Paul Harris (15), Darryl (MOOKIE!) Watkins (15), Eric Devendorf (11), and Andy Rautins (10).
Despite finishing sixth in the Big East, winning 10 games in league play as well as a game in the conference tourney, that Syracuse team was relegated to the NIT. The season came to a wrap with a loss at Clemson in the quarterfinals. (The NCAA says 22 of those victories didn’t happen, by the way. Sure, okay.)
Last Meeting: Maui wowie. (don’t get too many ideas — Utah’s laws don’t look like Colorado’s)
Syracuse outlasted No. 18 Baylor in the finals of the Maui Invitational, 74-67. It was the Orange’s third Maui title and it came on the back of C.J. Fair.
Fair tallied 24 points against the Bears, 14 of which coming in the second half as No. 8 Syracuse pulled away for the victory. It was Fair who hit a jump shot to stop a Bears’ 10-2 run that had Baylor back to within six points of Syracuse late in the second. Time and time again it seemed like Fair was in the right spot at the right time to help the Orange secure the championship.
For his three-day efforts in Hawaii, Fair was named tourney MVP.
Jerami Grant chipped in with 19 points and Trevor (Terry) Cooney and Tyler Ennis each added 11 points of their own for Syracuse, which would go on to start the season 25-0. Ultimately, the Orange ran out of gas by March and was eventually beaten by Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coaches: SU: Jim Boeheim (43rd year, 1,047-384; Baylor: Scott Drew (317–208— 337–219 overall)
Coach Bio: Scott Drew is a Butler University grad but the coach’s son never actually played ball for the Bulldogs. He did, however, join the basketball staff and spent two years as a student assistant.
Post graduation in 1993, Scott joined his father Homer’s staff at Valparaiso University. During his nine years as assistant at Valpo, Scott Drew developed a reputation as a top-level recruiter and as someone who was bred to be head coach. That came to reality when dad Homer officially retired, allowing for son Scott to take over the Crusaders.
However, after just one season leading Valpo, one in which ended in the NIT, Drew was lured away by Baylor in 2003.
At the time, it was a risky move for Drew. Taking the job in August, the new head coach had little time to prep before the season, and had to deal with NCAA ramifications brought on by the previous head coach, Dave Bliss. That scandal saw Bliss attempt to cover up the murder of one of his players which was committed by another one of his players.
When Drew took over in the fall of ‘03, the program’s top players transferred, plus he had to deal with probation for seven more years, and he and his staff dealt with recruiting restrictions. Furthermore, Baylor could only play conference games, with no post-season eligibility, in the 2005-06 season.
It’s amazing, given where Baylor was as a basketball program, that Drew has since guided the Bears to seven NCAA tourney appearances since 2008, reaching the Elite Eight in 2012 (winning the NIT the next year).
Last Year: Following a Sweet 16 appearance the year before, the 2017-18 campaign was a disappointing one for the Bears. Baylor ended the regular season with an 18-14 overall record, 8-10 in the Big 12.
Scott Drew’s club did take down No. 10 Kansas and No. 7 Texas Tech at home in February, but any bubble talk burst when the Bears lost to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals. The subsequent NIT invite led to a win over Wagner and a one-point loss to Mississippi State to end the season at 19-15 overall.
Last Game: The Bears aren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders right now. Losers of four straight, Baylor was defeated by Iowa State in the Big 12 quarters, 83-66, in its last game.
The Cyclones were led by Talen Horton-Tucker, who scored 21 points, 15 of which came on five 3-pointers. Marial Shayok added 18 and Lindell Wigginton 16 for Iowa State, the eventual Big 12 tourney champ. (This was ISU’s first win since late February.)
It was a poor defensive outing as the Bears allowed for the Cyclones to make 13 3-pointers total. Iowa State also shot over 50 percent from the field for the game. Conversely, Baylor was 9 of 25 from deep as a team.
In the loss , Baylor was led by Mario Kegler 16 points and Makai Mason’s 14.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: This would go to Tristan Clark, who is still tied for the team lead in points per game despite having been ruled out with injury since January. In Clark’s absence, Makai Mason is someone to watch out for, especially against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.
The Yale transfer is making nearly 40 percent of his shots from distance, and was 4 of 8 from three in the loss to Iowa State last Thursday. Mason has hit double figures in scoring in his last three, but he has missed three games since early February due to a toe injury.
Unlike some of his teammates, Mason has experience to draw from in preparing for Syracuse. Mason was a key member of the Yale squad that upset (wait for it) Baylor in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. He scored a career-best 31 points, making 9 of his 18 attempts from the field. Mason tested the NBA waters following that season, but eventually decided to return to school. However, he would never play for Yale again after breaking his foot in November of ‘16. Mason sat that season out and then eventually transferred to Waco, Tex.
If Syracuse Wins: It will continue the trend of Syracuse winning its NCAA Tournament openers. Jim Boeheim’s program has won eight first-round games in a row. The last loss came back in 2006 against Texas A& never mind.
Furthermore, a victory obviously moves the Orange on to a likely match up with No. 1 seed Gonzaga. That might not end well, but of all the top-seeded teams, the Bulldogs are probably the most “beatable,” at least for Syracuse’s chances.
Either way, a win keeps the fun going.
If Syracuse loses: It will be a deflating loss because Baylor isn’t very good. Yes, the Bears have some talent, and can potentially hit 3-pointers, and they have good offensive rebounding numbers. Still, this is a team that has lost four in a row. In what could have been a do-or-die game against Iowa State in the Big 12 quarters just last week, Baylor was smacked around from tip to buzzer.
Really, if Baylor hadn’t made the field of 68, would anyone outside of Waco even have noticed?
Anything can happen in the NCAA tourney, that’s always true, but the Orange losing this game really shouldn’t be one of those things.
Fun Fact No. 1: Syracuse’s last victory against Baylor came in the Maui Invitational finals six years back (scroll up for more). Did you know that SU is 9-0 all time in the Maui? Jim Boeheim’s teams have won that tourney in 1990, 1998 and 2013.
Fun Fact No. 2: Since the creation of the Big 12 in the 1996-97 season, Baylor is 106-163 all time in the league. The Bears have a winning conference record against just three of the nine other teams in the Big 12 — Texas Tech (24-23); TCU (11-2); and West Virginia (8-7).