When the Tigers and Syracuse Orangemen tip off their Sweet 16 round NCAA Tournament game at around 8:40 p.m. CST on Friday, it will be the first time the two colleges have met on the basketball court. Auburn has played 25 times against Big East opponents, winning 18 of those matchups.
Syracuse, which is the No. 3 seed in the East Regional, comes into the contest ranked 11th and 12th in the major polls with a 26-5 record. Auburn, 22-11, is not in the Top 25 and hasn't been this year except for a one-week period in January.
Syracuse, which posted a 13-3 Big East record this season, is a major test for the Tigers, says Auburn coach Cliff Ellis. "They are known for their zone and it is a good one," he says. "They are long, rangy, they have a big zone. They are fast. They have inside-outside presence. They have what is considered one of the top five collegiate players in America in Anthony (6-8 forward Carmelo Anthony). They go to the boards extremely well."
Syracuse received a break when the NCAA's selection committee gave the Orangemen a chance to play tournament games in Albany, an easy drive from the Syracuse campus, which is also in the state of New York. Ellis says that there is no doubt that is an advantage for Syracuse. "I think you would like for it to be as neutral as possible, but I don't know how you can do that," Ellis says. "Somewhere along the line, you are going to get in somebody's backyard. You hope it is yours, but I think in a 65-team format it is going to happen. Syracuse happens to have that advantage. That is just the way it is."
Auburn senior forward Marquis Daniels says that he and the Tigers are going to play the underdog role to the fullest throughout the NCAA Tournament. "People picked us to not even make the tournament. Now that we are here at the Sweet 16 we can't be satisfied. We have to stay hungry."
NCAA Notes: Auburn has a 12-7 all-time record in NCAA Tournament play and is 5-2 in games coached by Cliff Ellis. Ellis is 8-7 all-time in NCAA play. He was 0-2 at South Alabama and 3-3 at Clemson... Syracuse set an NCAA record for the largest home crowd for a college basketball game played on-campus when 33,071 showed up to watch the Orangemen make a comeback victory over Rutgers in the final game of the regular season. Syracuse finished second nationally in average home attendance at 20,921. Kentucky led the nation at 22,124...Syracuse was unbeaten at home this year, the first time that happened since moving into the Carrier Dome for the 1980-81 season. Syracuse was 17-0 at home, 6-3 on the road and is 3-2 at neutral sites... Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is now the dean of college Division I basketball coaches with the retirement of Jim Phalen, who was the coach of Mt. St. Mary's for 48 seasons...Boeheim is 22nd in Division I career victories with 649...Auburn's Ellis needs one win to tie Sonny Smith for second place in Auburn career coaching victories. Joel Eaves is No. 1 with 213 victories. Ellis is in his ninth season at AU. Smith coached 11 years and Eaves was head coach at AU for 14 seasons...If Auburn defeats Syracuse, the Tigers will play either No. 1 seed Oklahoma or 12th seed Butler for the right to go to the Final Four in New Orleans. Auburn is 1-1 all-time vs. Oklahoma and 2-0 vs. Butler.