Syracuse has made the NCAA Tournament. Those words seemed nearly impossible just a few days before Selection Sunday when the Orange fell to Pittsburgh for the third time this season. Despite that, their resume was enough for the committee to put them in. Now that they are, how far can they go?
Can Syracuse make a run and play the role of Cinderella? Let's take a look.
1st Round vs Dayton
This is a rematch of the second round game two years ago in Buffalo. The Flyers upset Syracuse in a close one that saw Tyler Ennis' buzzer beater miss and the Orange's season end prematurely. This year, Dayton is the higher seed and playing closer to home. Syracuse is trying to play the role of spoiler.
Both teams return contributors from that season. The difference is, Dayton is not playing as well down the stretch as they were two years ago. They have struggled to shoot the basketball from the outside in recent games, which gives an advantage to Syracuse and their zone.
Dayton is not a big team, either. They play a three guard lineup with two front court players in their starting lineup. Their forwards are 6-foot-6 Kendall Pollard and 6-foot-8 Dyshawn Pierre. Pierre is more of a perimeter player and can hurt Syracuse from the outside.
They do bring 6-foot-11 Steve McElvene off the bench. He provides size, rebounding and shot blocking. He could be a matchup problem inside for Syracuse.
Largely, however, there are a lot of things to like about how Syracuse matches up with Dayton. The size of the wings and the guards for Syracuse are very favorable. If the zone is rotating well and can prevent open looks for Dayton, the Flyers could have trouble scoring.
Where Dayton can break down that zone is with point guard Scoochie Smith. His ability to get into the paint and make plays for himself or others will be critical for the Flyers. If Syracuse can neutralize him, that will go a long way for the Orange.
The biggest key may be stopping Charles Cooke, Dayton's best player. Cooke is a 6-foot-5 wing who can really shoot at over 41% from beyond the three-point arc. Cooke is a talented scorer as well at nearly 16 points per game. Syracuse will have their hands full with him.
Potential 2nd round vs Michigan State
Can the Orange upset the Spartans, who will be a sexy pick to win the whole thing? Yes they CAN, but it will take a monumental effort. Syracuse does not appear to have an answer for Denzel Valentine or any of Sparty's talented guards.
Michigan State can do everything needed to beat the zone. They have playmaking bigs who can pass and are comfortable playing in the high post. They have shooters who can hit from the outside. They have penetrating guards who can get into the lane and finish at the rim or find open teammates.
The Spartans also have physical bigs who can rebound, defend and post-up. Michigan State is as complete a team as there is in college basketball. Syracuse would have to play their best game of the season to pull off a surprising victory.
Sweet 16 and Beyond
There are some intriguing matchups if Syracuse could find their way past Michigan State. A Sweet-16 matchup with a talented Utah team or old Big East rival Seton Hall would certainly be fun. Especially with the storyline of Isaiah Whitehead's recruitment, as Syracuse was considered a favorite for a long time before he ultimately signed with the Pirates.
If Syracuse makes a deep run and finds themselves in the Elite Eight, a rematch with Virginia is possible. Given their half of the bracket, they seem like a strong bet to make it beyond the Sweet-16. If they were to be upset, Iowa State or Purdue are the most likely culprits.
The Cyclones can flat out score, but are not a great defensive team. Still, they could give the zone some real problems. The Boilermakers played Michigan State very, very tough in the Big-10 Championship Game. They have some talented bigs who could eat up the Orange on the boards.