While SU and Arizona State have only met once on the hardwood (in 1968), the teams have many parallels that could make this a fantastic game. Ever since the teams' respective star players, Johnny Flynn and James Harden, met at a basketball camp during their sophomore years of high school, the two remained close. Both insist this game is about winning, even though it will be a showcase for two potential NBA lottery picks.
Expect whoever gets the better part of the matchup to have the advantage in this one. But both teams have much more than just their star players. SU will boast Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, two beefy bruisers in the low post who should be able to exploit their height and size advantage on their Sun Devil opponents.
However, the Sun Devils have a couple of spot on three point bombers in Rihards Kuksiks and Derek Glasser, who will look to exploit the gaps in SU's 2-3 zone. Kuksiks knocks down 45% of his threes, ranking with the nation's best in this category. Meanwhile, Glasser's statistics have blossomed this year. Besides being an expert marksman from distance, the Sun Devils' starting point guard also has an assist-to-turnover ratio that's well over 2:1.
The Sun Devils will look to slow the tempo of this game down, as they average less than seventy points per game. Nevertheless, Herb Sendek's squad also is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, giving up just over sixty points per game. The Sun Devils have struggled oftentimes this season to keep up in contests that go up and down the floor.
Expect this contest to be a back-and-forth affair that comes down to whichever star player can take over and which team can get its supporting cast to step up and hit shots in the clutch. With that being said, it'll be tough to bet against Syracuse and Eric Devendorf, who isn't afraid to take the shot in any situation. And it'll be hard to bet against SU coming off its solid run in the Big East Tournament where the team showed its mettle and honed its mental toughness and heart.
However, if SU comes out flat in this second-round contest or takes its foot off the gas pedal, Jim Boeheim's team will be taking a return flight to Syracuse earlier than it wanted to.
Six Keys To The Game / Pressing Questions
-SU is 17-0 when Arinze Onuaku scores twelve or more points and just 10-9 when he doesn't. Onuaku will have a chance to go to town Sunday, as he'll have a distinct size advantage on a smaller Arizona State team.
-Paging James Harden. The Sun Devils' star player averaged more than twenty points per game, along with six rebounds and four dimes per game in the regular season. However, Harden finished with just one more made field goal than SU's Andy Rautins had in their respective first round matchups. The difference: Rautins is SU's sixth man while Harden is what makes his team tick.
-Arizona State has lost nine games this year, the same number as Syracuse. There really wasn't a whole lot separating these two teams. The main two differences in these two teams' regular seasons was how Syracuse picked up huge wins out-of-conference and how the teams fared in their respective conference tourneys. Meanwhile, Arizona State rarely gets overwhelmed in a game, with many weapons to rely on. The Sun Devils biggest margin of defeat was thirteen points this season, in a home game against Washington.
-SU is 20-1 when leading at halftime this season; its lone loss came in the Big East Championship game, as it lost to Louisville after playing a combined seven overtimes in its two previous games.
-The Orange has been limiting its turnovers as of late. To succeed today, it will have to get back to those careful ball-handling methods, just one game after committing 21 turnovers in its first round victory over Stephen F. Austin. Also, SU needs to dominate the boards, especially given its height advantage. If Paul Harris can pull down anywhere near the sixteen boards he corralled in his first NCAA tourney game, SU should be fine.
-The great equalizer in any game is the three-point shot. Arizona State has knocked down 272 of them this season, approaching a single-season school record. When you do the math, that's nearly 9 three point makes per game. Meanwhile, SU boasts one of the nation's top three point field goal percentage defenses. And SU isn't that shabby itself shooting the three. Sharpshooters Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins struggled mightily in SU's first round win. However, that win came against a Lumberjacks team that ranked #1 in the country against defending the three. Whichever team shoots the ball better from distance has a great chance of moving on to face Oklahoma. When it's all said and done though, SU should be able to ride its balanced scoring attack to its first Sweet 16 berth in five years.
Prediction: #3 Syracuse 74, #6 Arizona State 67