Kicking off Friday’s slate of games in the 2016 NCAA tournament is an intriguing matchup in the Midwest Region between No. 7 seed Dayton Flyers and No. 10 Syracuse Orange, a rematch of a Round of 32 game in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
It’s impossible to discuss the Orange without mentioning Jim Boeheim‘s patented 2-3 zone, which tends to give teams trouble this time of year, especially teams who don’t see Syracuse on a yearly basis. The good news for the Flyers is that their top three scorers, Charles Cooke, Dyshawn Pierre and Scoochie Smith, all shoot better than than 35 percent from the perimeter. However, the length of the Syracuse defense, particularly at the top of the zone, can make things difficult, even for good shooting teams.
The down side of the Syracuse defense is that it struggles rebounding the ball and has been hurt by opposing teams scoring second chance points all season. However, the Flyers are not particularly big in the frontcourt, so they may not be able to take advantage of Syracuse’s rebounding struggles as much as other teams.
Offensively, the Flyers have had a rather mediocre season, and one thing they should be weary of is turnovers, which has been a weakness for them all season. Dayton averages 13 turnovers per game, and against the Syracuse zone, live-ball turnovers can be fatal. Despite having the reputation of a slow-paced team, the Orange are more than willing to run when they get the chance. With their guards positioned at the top of the 2-3 zone, Syracuse can quickly turn turnovers into points if the Flyers are not careful with the ball.
Outside of being opportunistic when it comes to scoring off turnovers, the Orange are heavily reliant on three-point shooting. Syracuse’s inside scoring tends to come and go, but it has four capable outside shooters in Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon. When two or more of those players shoot a high percentage from the perimeter, the Orange have proven to be difficult to beat. Gbinije in particular can be dangerous, as he’s scored in double figures in every game this year, including 10 games with 20 or more points.
Defensively, the Flyers hope to be athletic enough to bother Syracuse’s shooters, although it’s rare for all four perimeter players to struggle, and on occasion Tyler Roberson can be a dominant offensive rebounder. Dayton will also be looking to force turnovers, which is a strength of its defense. If the Flyers can force both bad shots and turnovers, they may be able to force the Orange offense out of rhythm and be able to grind out a low-scoring win.
Ultimately, this game figures to come down to which team can do a better job of hiding their weaknesses and taking advantage of the other’s. If the Orange can make perimeter shots and prevent a huge difference in the rebounding department, they stand to get revenge for their loss to Dayton two years ago. However, if the Flyers can score second-chance points on offense and force turnovers on defense, they may have Syracuse’s number for the second time in three years. Either way, expect this to be a tight game that comes down to the final minutes.