The final game of the first full day of the NCAA Tournament will be a power-five conference matchup between the Syracuse Orange and the Baylor Bears. Both teams seemed to defy odds to reach the NCAA Tournament this season, but both programs have had great success in recent seasons. Neither team is coming into this game with a ton of momentum, but that can change in a hurry. Baylor has lost four straight games, while Syracuse has just one win in their last four tries.
Baylor was able to go 10-8 in Big Twelve Conference play this season and come in with an overall record of 18-13. The Bears have impressive wins over Iowa State and Texas Tech this season, but they have also lost some games that they shouldn’t have. Syracuse had to deal with an incredibly tough ACC this season but managed to go 10-8 in conference play. The Orange bring a 20-13 record into this first round matchup. Syracuse is a -2.5 point favorite over Baylor in this game.
2-3 Zone Always a Factor For Syracuse
Head coach Jim Boeheim is famous for his patented 2-3 zone, and this Syracuse team plays it as well as they ever have. The Orange have a ton of size and athleticism at all five positions, and Syracuse has been tough to score on this season. Syracuse is allowing just over 65 points per game, and that has been against some terrific competition. Center Paschal Chukwu anchors the defense with 1.8 blocks per game, and guard Frank Howard averages 1.5 steals per game.
The Orange have had trouble scoring at times this season, and are averaging just under 70 points per game this season. Syracuse has shot just 33 percent from the three-point line this season, which is below average by today’s standards. Guard Tyus Battle has been a consistent threat for Syracuse this season, averaging 17.5 points per game. Forward Elijah Hughes is a guy to keep an eye on in this game and has the ability to knock down shots. If Syracuse is going to win this game, it will be on the defensive end of the floor.
Baylor Playing Without Star Player
Everyone thought that Baylor’s season was over when forward Tristan Clark went down with a season-ending knee injury. Clark was averaging a team-high 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds at the time of his injury, but Baylor has had some players step up. Head coach Scott Drew was able to get his team to regroup in a hurry, although the Bears still don’t have a go-to scorer when the game gets tight. Baylor will have to figure out a way to attack the middle of the zone without their best inside scorer.
Shot-making has been a problem for Baylor of late, even though they are making 34 percent of their three-point attempts. The Bears also struggle from the free-throw line, making just 67 percent of their attempts as a team. A lot of the scoring responsibilities will fall on guards Makai Mason and Mario Kegler. Mason and Kegler have been stepping up for the Bears of late, but they might struggle against the length that Syracuse will throw at them.
Orange Move On to Round of 32
Even though this is an 8-9 first round matchup, there seems to be a large gap in talent between the two teams. Baylor would be able to challenge Syracuse with Clark, but they just don’t have the horses to keep up. The Orange play the 2-3 zone better than anyone in the country, and they will roll to a victory in this game. Bet the Syracuse Orange -2.5 over the Baylor Bears.