March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan

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Syracuse Orange 27-5, 14-4
It wasn’t until February 19 that the Orange suffered their first loss, but three more followed in the next four games. That’s created a cause for concern, especially since two of them were against teams outside of the RPI top 100 in Georgia Tech and Boston College. The Orange is far from a team that lives or dies by the three, they only average five threes a game at a 33.8 percent clip, but in their four regular season losses the one common trend was poor three-point shooting. They shot a combined 14-60 from distance in those contests. The Orange’s strength of schedule was ranked 70th, but they went 15-2 against the RPI top 100. The health of Jerami Grant is vital for them. He’s been dealing with some back issues. If he’s hobbled at all during the tourney, the Orange are going to be at a real disadvantage. It will put more pressure on Tyler Ennis, Trevor Cooney and C.J. Fair to carry the workload, which they’re capable of doing, but they’re a much more formidable team when it’s spread out among the four of them. The Orange, of course, play exclusively 2-3 zone defense. It’s been quite stifling this year, allowing just 59 points a contest. They aggressively play the passing lanes, accumulating 8.1 steals on average. Without being able to properly attack the weak spots of that aggressive zone defense, opposing teams don’t stand a chance.

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Western Michigan Broncos 23-9, 14-4
Toledo and Western Michigan were the class of the Mid-American throughout the regular season, finishing with an identical 14-4 conference record while splitting the regular season series 1-1. It was only fitting that the two would face off again in the conference tournament championship. The Broncos led by two through 20 minutes of play and erupted for 56 second-half points en route to a 98-77 victory that clinched their fourth NCAA Tournament bid. The last time we saw the Broncos dancing was in 2004. They were one and done that year, but won a game in their two prior appearances (1998, 1976). They played the 193rd toughest schedule, going 8-4 against the RPI top 100. Their top wins both came against Toledo, but they also beat a tournament team in New Mexico State. The Broncos score 71.9 points a game at a very respectable 46 percent clip. However, they struggle shooting the three, making just 33 percent of their attempts and they also turn it over 14.4 times a game. Fifth year senior David Brown is one of the top scorers in the country, netting 19.4 a night. He erupted for 32 points in the bid-clinching win against Toledo. They’re going to need a similar effort from him and solid production inside from fellow senior Shayne Whittington. Whittington was just shy of averaging a double-double on the season at 16.3 points and 9.1 rebounds. He also averages 1.6 blocks a game. If they’re effective confidence will permeate to the rest of the team, but even then an upset is unlikely.