Session one in Pittsburgh featured two very close games, one expected but one surprising. Kansas State needed a late surge from Angel Rodriguez to overtake Southern Mississippi while Syracuse recovered from a poor shooting game to knock off UNC-Asheville.
Now the Wildcats and Orange face off Friday as one of these teams will advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston while the other will finally have their hearts broken. This matchup has several intriguing storylines to watch, but here are the ones that will radically affect the game.
Syracuse Sans Melo
While many will be quick to say that the absence of Fab is what prevented the Orange from blowing out their inferior competition, the reality is that the Orange did not take great shots from the field and failed to dictate the pace of the game.
The Orange were constantly sputtering in their half-court offense and as a result, UNC-Asheville was able to use great shooting to keep the game close and take the lead at the half.
Against Kansas State, the Orange will definitely feel the absence of Fab as Jordan Henriquez will be dominating the paint for the Wildcats. Rakeem Christmas played alright for Syracuse, but Henriquez is a solid post player who will have his way unless Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita challenge him every possession.
If Syracuse can cope without Melo, this next storyline will become even more important.
What Will This Game "Feel" Like?
Mid-majors are nefarious for playing two radically extreme styles: slow or fast. The Orange played slow against the Bulldogs, but the Wildcats will not necessarily present the same challenge. Rodney McGruder blew up for 30 points in order to keep the Wildcats afloat in the first half.
Kansas State is a team that likes to control the glass and has the potential to shoot over the zone, but if the Orange are able to fight the boards with the Wildcats, then Kansas State will have to try to shoot the ball with lots of passing, much like Cincinnati and UConn did in the Big East tournament.
If the Wildcats are only getting offense from McGruder once again, then it is very feasible for the Orange to dictate flow early and run the floor rather than sit back and try to force a defensive stop.
Can Kansas State Play a Full Game?
The Wildcats have dropped seven games this season after holding first-half leads. They like to play a relentless, aggressive, man-to-man defense that wears down their opponents. The problem for the Wildcats is that Syracuse has the depth to counter.
It is almost guaranteed the Orange and Wildcats will be tied at the half if Kansas State hasn't grabbed a slight advantage. However, look for the Orange's depth to outlast physical play, much like they did in their opening round.
Players like Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair could become very influential if they get late minutes, and if they play safe basketball, the Orange will have a huge advantage.
This game won't disappoint as it will come down to the wire. However, I think that Kansas State has proven that they cannot play 40 minutes of basketball while the Orange have proved they will pounce on any break their opponent takes. Expect Dion Waiters to be the leading Orange scorer a huge reason for a late Orange rally.
Syracuse 70, Kansas State 67