With their struggles over the final few weeks of the season and early exit in the ACC Tournament, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee handed the Syracuse Orange the No. 3 seed in the South Region, matching them up with MAC champions Western Michigan in the first round of the tournament.
If the Broncos are going to pull the upset, the key for them is 6-foot-11 center Shayne Whittington, who averages 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Post players are becoming a rarity in college basketball, but Western Michigan has one in Whittington. He will be a challenge for the Syracuse centers to guard one on one in the post.
However, the Broncos aren’t a good outside shooting team, shooting just 33 percent from three-point range as a team. This will allow Syracuse to shrink their zone and dedicate more energy and manpower towards defending Whittington inside. None of Western Michigan’s prominent players, including leading scorer David Brown, are great perimeter shooters. But they’re going to need to make outside shots against the Syracuse zone in order to win, because the Orange will let them have shots until they can prove they can hit them.
The Orange shouldn’t be too concerned about their defense heading into the tournament, but the offense is another story. C.J. Fair is coming off a rough shooting night in Syracuse’s loss to NC State, and he can’t have a repeat performance as Syracuse is not a team that runs inferior opponents out of the building. An off night from the team’s best player will make things difficult for them, even against a Western Michigan team that doesn’t appear to be a threat from the perimeter.
Of course, perimeter shooting has also been a weakness for Syracuse heading into the postseason. The Orange need shooting guard Trevor Cooney to find his shooting touch from the outside or else Syracuse won’t have the offensive versatility or firepower to make a deep run in the tournament. Syracuse may be able to survive against Western Michigan if Cooney continues to struggle, but a game against a weaker team is the perfect opportunity for Cooney to regain his shooting stroke before moving into the round of 32.
On paper, the Orange should have an easy time with Western Michigan. But the Broncos have some size inside, and if they can get points in the paint, they’ll stay close with Syracuse in a grind-it-out type of game. However, Syracuse has been in a lot of close games this season and has found ways to win time and time again, so it’ll take something special from Western Michigan to get them over the hump and topple the Orange in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.