Syracuse looks to avoid becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed Thursday afternoon when the team faces UNC-Asheville at the Consol Energy Center.
The Orange will be playing without the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and sophomore center Fab Melo for the entirety of the Tournament because of an eligibility issue, so it will be up to Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita to fill the void in the middle of the 2-3 zone.
So what does that mean for Thursday as far as adjustments are concerned?
The Bulldogs start four seniors and a junior, but no primary option they utilize is over 6-foot-5. However, they do make up for a lack of size with scrappy play, efficient shooting and with a solid transition game that led to UNCA's No. 5 ranking among all Division I teams in points per game (81.2).
Players to keep an eye on
Primm is one of two guards on the team to average better than 15 points per game, and he scores in a variety of ways. Not only is he a solid long distance shooter at 36 percent for the season, but he is known as a slasher and somebody who doesn't mind contact in the lane on the way to the cup. Not to mention, he isn't lacking confidence against Syracuse or anybody else that the team may face should it stun the college basketball world with a win.
"I think we're one of the strongest 16 seeds that's been a 16 seed at the tournament," said Primm at Wednesday's press conference.
Dickey is Primm's running mate at the guard position, and a fellow senior, who leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder is more of a pure shooter when compared to the versatile Primm. Dickey shoots at a 38.1 percent clip from beyond the arc on the way to leading the Bulldogs in scoring. After last season's brief stay in the big dance, the 2012 Big South Player of the Year is looking to advance this time around and make history in the process.
"We're not satisfied just being here this year," said Dickey on Wednesday. "We want a win. We want to make our team and our city known.
"This is a chance to do that."
With the height advantage Syracuse has inside over Asheveille, even without Melo, C.J. Fair becomes even more of an X-factor considering he is already the team's best rebounder. The interesting dynamic on the boards is that the Bulldogs actually out-rebound their opponents despite the lack of height, though conference opponents like Winthrop, Liberty and Charleston Southern is the victim more times than not.
Fair will have to channel his regular-season form on the glass to help the Orange dominate a category they often get dominated in. James Southerland, Kris Joseph and whoever is slated in at center should help in the process.
The bigger matchup for SU will be containing Primm and Dickey atop the 2-3 zone. Each can shoot when left open, and Primm can create off the dribble. The Orange had issues with extending out in the zone early against Cincinnati on the way to a Big East Tournament loss, and the Bearcats made SU pay with deadly shooting from three-point range. If the defense comes out in a similarly-passive tone, which it shouldn't, the game will be closer than most people expect.
Yes, UNC-Asheville is a talented 16 seed, and may be one of the toughest since the field expanded to 64 (now 68) teams, but Syracuse should still handle its business beginning at 3:10 p.m. on Thursday.
Look for a focused Orange squad early on in the game, perhaps strictly because of the Melo situation. The team was loose in practice and potential Melo replacements Christmas and Keita took in some extra work in the process. Both bigs say they are ready for the role going forward, and Christmas – a freshman – reiterated that he feels good heading into the matchup despite dealing with a short leash throughout the regular season along with fluctuating minutes despite starting.
So with the inside game all-but guaranteed to be solid for ‘Cuse against such a small opponent, the Bulldogs will not stray away from their game. They have been an up-and-down team all season, and will continue to do so on Thursday even against a team that wants to run with them.
"No, we're not changing anything (laughter)," said UNCA Coach Eddie Biedenbach.
This means that long rebounds and turnovers will need to be kept to a minimum by Syracuse, though any team willing to run with arguably the deepest and most athletic team in the country is in for a long 40 minutes. Look for Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, and maybe the country's hottest offensive player in Dion Waiters – to push the pace all day and get into a track meet with the Bulldogs.
Advantage: Syracuse, 85-69.