SU men’s basketball to face Baylor in first round of NCAA Tournament

SU men's basketball to face Baylor in first round of NCAA Tournament

Syracuse's Tyus Battle will return to the court for the first time since sustaining a lower back injury in March 9 game against Clemson.
Published: March 18, 2019
Syracuse men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim addresses the media after NCAA Tournament seeding is released.
Syracuse men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim addresses the media after NCAA Tournament seeding is released.

The Syracuse men’s basketball team is going dancing. The Orange earned a bid to the NCAA tournament as the No. 8 seed in the West Region and is slated to face the No. 9 seed Baylor on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2013 Maui Invitational Tournament where the Orange defeated the Bears 74-67. 

At first glance both teams look similar on paper, each completing their respective conferences with nearly identical records. The Orange finished the season 20-13 including a 10-8 record in ACC play. Baylor concluded its season with a 19-13 overall record with a 10-8 record in the Big 12.

What separates the Orange from the Bears is Syracuse’s strength of schedule. The Orange opened up their regular season against five non-conference foes who went on to win their respective conference tournaments, winning automatic bids to the Big Dance.

In ACC play, the Orange faced three No. 1 seeds in Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. An upset against the then nationally ranked No. 1 Blue Devils in early January and a big win over Ohio State in November bolstered Syracuse’s resume.

“I think our strength of schedule was key,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “[Our] non-conference strength of schedule was the best we’ve ever had.”

This game will be a battle of the zone defenses, as Boeheim uses a 2-3 zone and Baylor head coach Scott Drew uses a 1-1-3.

With a first round-win against Baylor, the Orange would most likely face No. 1 seed Gonzaga (30-3, 16-0 in WCC) in the second round of the tournament.

Last year, Syracuse squeezed its way into the tournament and won a spot in the 64-team bracket after defeating Arizona State in a First Four matchup. The Orange went on to defeat then 6-seed TCU and 3-seed Michigan State, making it to the Sweet 16 before being knocked out by then 2-seed Duke.

This year, the Orange are confident and composed for what madness lies ahead. The team’s experience and individual players’ maturity over the course of the season increases the Orange’s confidence heading into the tournament.

“I think we’ve got some experience,” Boeheim said. “I think Buddy got some extra experience down there (in the ACC Tournament) that I think will help him. Elijah, I thought played well in the tournament. I thought Oshae had his best, one of his best second halves of this year.”

Senior guard Frank Howard is confident in newcomers freshman Buddy Boeheim and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes.

“Those are two guys who are already seasoned in their own way,” Howard said of two players’ growth over the season. “I’m confident they’ll be ready. Buddy stepped up in some big games this past week and Elijah as well. They performed all year, so we’re not worried about that.”

Tyus Battle, who sustained a lower back injury in the March 9 game against Clemson, will return to the Syracuse starting lineup for the tournament.

This year marks the Orange’s return to the NCAA tournament for the 40th time, including 34 appearances under Boeheim in his 43 years at the helm. He led the Orange to a National Championship in 2003 and five Final Four appearances, most recently in 2016, when Syracuse fell to North Carolina.

“I’m excited to move forward with this team,” Boeheim said. “I think we are in better position than where we were last year.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 9:47 p.m. EST.