Let the games begin. The time has finally arrived, as the 8-seed Syracuse Orange begin their (hopeful) run in the NCAA Tournament with the 9th-seeded Baylor Bears. Yesterday’s news of Frank Howard being suspended indefinitely was not the start the Orange were looking for, but with Tyus Battle back in the lineup, anything is possible.
The point guard situation
Well, this seems like déjà vu. After missing the first four games of the season, Frank Howard will be out once again for the Orange due to a violation of athletic department policy. Howard’s absence means Battle will likely slide into the point guard position, something he had to do early in the season when Howard was hurt.
Battle struggled a bit to get accustomed to the abnormal position, but with experience already running the offense, the junior guard should have an easier time this go-around. Buddy Boeheim and Jalen Carey will get increased minutes as well, so look for the Orange to try and find Boeheim on the perimeter early and often.
The Orange are heading into Thursday’s game with a massive size advantage, as the Bears’ tallest contributor is just 6’9”. The lack of size for the Bears will make Paschal Chukwu and Oshae Brissett a massive factor in the game, as they have the potential to dominate the paint. Baylor is still an impressive rebounding team (third in the Big 12), so Syracuse needs to crash the boards with aggression to avoid lots of second chance opportunities for the Bears.
Where will Baylor find scoring?
Baylor is without their leading scorer in Tristan Clark who suffered a season ending injury back in January, so a lot of the pressure to score the ball is going to fall on the shoulders of Makai Mason’s. Mason averages 14.6 points per game, as he uses the long ball to terrorize opponents. Mason can take over a game on his own, as his season high is 40 points on nine threes—look for the zone to be locked in on him from the tip, as Syracuse looks to make someone else beat them.
Marek Dolezaj’s production
With the Bears showing a small front in size, Marek Dolezaj could be in prime position for an effective game. The Slovakian forward is as versatile as it gets, so coach Jim Boeheim could use him in many different ways. Baylor plays a zone, so look for Dolezaj to try and find the open spots on the baseline for easy finishes or kick-out passes to perimeter shooters.
Can the Orange finish inside?
Once again, Baylor finds a way to put up impressive stats inside despite their lack of height. The Bears average the second most blocks per game in the Big 12 with 4.8 per game, so it’ll be important for the Orange to take care of the ball inside.
It’s been a rough season for Brissett on the offensive end of the ball, as he has struggled to find consistency finishing around the rim. With Baylor packing the paint with their zone, it’ll be interesting to see if the sophomore forward can put the regular season behind him and dominate in the games that matter most.