Syracuse made it to the East bracket in the NCAA tournament as a 4 seed, but will play the first two games out west in San Jose (CA). They will face the 13 seeded Montana Grizzlies. The Grizzlies went 25-6 on the season, including 19-1 in the Big Sky Conference. They also won the Big Sky Tournament.
The Grizzlies are led by senior guard Will Cherry, who can do a bit of everything. He's a solid rebounder for a guard, passes well, and can score. Montana features several shooters that could give the Orange trouble. Senior forward Mathias Ward is shooting 40% from beyond the arc but is out for the season with an injury. Junior wing Kareem Jamar is hitting 36% of his shots from the outside, and sophomore guard Jordan Gregory 44%.
Montana does, however, lack significant size inside, especially with the loss of Ward.. They have a couple 6-foot-7 front court players, but their tallest player is 6-foot-9 Eric Hutchinson who isn't a threat to score and is an average at best rebounder.
The zone should give the Grizzlies fits if they stay aggressive and close out on shooters. They must contain Will Cherry, who can get in the lane and kick to open shooters if the zone collapses.
Syracuse is more talented than Montana, and has more size all over the floor. The Grizzlies will need to shoot very well to upset the Orange, but it's not crazy to think that could happen.
If Syracuse can move on, a round of 32 matchup with either UNLV or California awaits. UNLV is extremely talented and athletic. The Rebels are led by talented forward Anthony Bennett. Bennett is the type of forward that could give Syracuse a lot of problems. He can score from anywhere on the floor, shoot from the outside, and is a strong rebounder.
If California would upset UNLV, Syracuse would be playing a road game of sorts against the Bears. Cal is led by junior guard Allen Crabbe who can flat out score and shoot from the outside. The Bears are extremely inconsistent, but playing in their home state should give them a boost.
Syracuse matches up better with Cal than UNLV on paper. But Cal would be playing on a virtual home court. The Rebels have more size and athleticism, and would have the most talented player in Bennett. Either one will be a challenge for Syracuse, but their defense gives them an edge with a short amount of time to prepare for the zone.
Should the Orange make it to the second weekend, a few scenarios are possible. The most likely matchup would be with Indiana looms. The good news for Syracuse is the site of that game would be Washington (D.C.). But the Hoosiers have been arguably the best team in the country all season. Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller could give the Orange major problems, and Idiana's ability to shoot from the outside would be a tough matchup.
Another possibility is N.C. State or Temple upset Indiana, and Syracuse would face that school in the Sweet-16. Either case would be interesting. The Wolfpack feel to Syracuse last season at home, but both teams are very different this year. Temple defeated the Orange in December, and Syracuse would relish a chance at revenge.
Should the Orange be fortunate enough to move make it to the Elite-8, many interesting possibilities await. Who would be surprised if Butler made another run? A rematch with the Bulldogs from the 2010 NCAA Tournament would be quite a matchup. A showdown with conference opponent Marquette would be interesting as well. But Miami could also loom down the road. Their athleticism could give Syracuse fits as future ACC opponents could face off for a chance to go to the Final Four.
Nothing is ever easy in the NCAA Tournament, and Syracuse will be tested right away. The site draw is a little tough initially having to travel across the country, but once the games start, all of that goes out the window. Survive and advance is the name of the game. The Orange will start preparing right away to try to make a run.