Commentary: SU men’s basketball can advance to the Elite Eight

Commentary: SU men's basketball can advance to the Elite Eight

The Orange could potentially pull off an upset over Gonzaga in the second round.
Published: March 20, 2019
Tyus Battle goes for a dunk vs. Pittsburgh
In this file photo, Tyus Battle goes up for a dunk on Jan. 19 against Pittsburgh in the Carrier Dome.

For the first time in years, Syracuse fans were able to relax on Selection Sunday. The Orange comfortably made the field as an 8-seed in the West Region and will take on the 9-seeded Baylor Bears Thursday night in Salt Lake City. And, dare I say, this is the best possible draw Syracuse could have asked for.

After starting 10-5 in conference play, Baylor dropped four straight games, and head into the NCAA Tournament on a losing streak. The Bears haven’t played well down the stretch (much like Syracuse’s first tournament opponent last season, Arizona State), and you want to play teams in the Tournament that did not finish the regular season strong.

I have to give Baylor head coach Scott Drew some credit though, because after star player Tristan Clark had a season-ending knee injury in January, many wrote the Bears off. However, they still managed to have a winning record in the Big 12 and make the Big Dance. After Clark’s injury, Baylor became a team that relies strictly on three-point shooting, which could be a concern for Syracuse’s zone-defense. If Syracuse can manage to prevent Baylor from having a field day from three-point range, they will win. Keep in mind: the zone-defense is built for March.

If ‘Cuse can get a first round win, unless Farleigh Dickinson pulls a UMBC and beats Gonzaga, the Orange would take on the Zags in round two. Look, Gonzaga is an awesome basketball team, but the Bulldogs haven’t played a major conference team since Dec. 15. December 15!

Since, they have played teams like Pepperdine, BYU and Santa Clara in the West Coast Conference. Oh, did I mention they didn’t even win their conference tournament? The Zags had no answer for Saint Mary’s dominant play in the final, losing 60-47. Gonzaga hasn’t been battle-tested like Syracuse in the ACC. In my opinion, they weren’t deserving of a 1-seed. This could be an 8 over 1 upset.

The West Region will be the region of chaos. So many upsets are possible, and that’s what the Orange need to make a run. The 5-seed in the region, Marquette, is 1-5 in its last six games. They face a dangerous Murray State team in the first round, led by one of the best players in the country, Ja Morant. The 4-seed in the region, Florida State, plays a Vermont team in round one that is 27-6 on the season. The Orange literally could be playing the Murray State Racers or the Vermont Catamounts in the Sweet 16.

Here’s the bottom line: You can never count out Jim Boeheim in March. In his last eight tournament appearances (dating back to 2009), Syracuse has made at least the Sweet 16 six times. That includes two Final Fours.

Another Final Four appearance is not likely with Michigan and Texas Tech on the bottom half of the bracket, but a Syracuse Elite Eight run is more possible than you think.

Avatar for Will Scott

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.