X Factors to Watch in Syracuse vs Western Michigan NCAA Tournament Matchup
When 3-seed Syracuse and 14-seed Western Michigan take the floor on Thursday in Buffalo, the Orange will be strong favorites to move on to the Round of 32.
Jim Boeheim's bunch brings a 27-5 record (14-4 ACC) to the South Region matchup. The Broncos posted a 23-9 mark (14-4 MAC) and upset Toledo in the Mid American Conference title game to secure its automatic bid.
Both of these teams have less-than-obvious attributes that could have a serious impact on the final outcome of this game. There are also some specific situations that lead to success or failure, victory or defeat.
Here we go! March Madness!
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced stats via Kenpom.com
Orange X Factor #3: Cooney Going for Double Figures
It is no secret that Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney is an important part of the Orange's success.
When he is shooting and scoring well, the team wins.
While Cooney is in no way solely responsible for Syracuse's recent struggles, his scoring slump does have its impact.
This year, when the 6'4" sophomore scores in double figures, the Orange are 20-1.
During this final stretch of frustrating games, when Syracuse has lost five of their last seven, Cooney has only scored 10 points or more one time.
Getting him back on track as soon as possible will help the Orange get back to their winning ways. When he is hitting shots, the floor is more spread and the lane is not as congested.
Broncos' X Factor #2: Running Shooters off the 3-Point Line
Syracuse has struggled to put the ball in the basket lately from anything other than point-blank range.
ESPN's Stats and Information described the extent of the Orange's shooting drought:
Syracuse has made 28% of its field goals attempts from 10 feet or longer in its last eight games, including 26% in its five losses. During the Orange's first 24 games (all wins), they shot 37% on such shots. They are 16-0 this season when they make at least a third of their attempts from 10+ feet.
Western Michigan does not want to be the team that allows Syracuse to rediscover their collective shooting touch.
The Broncos have done an excellent job this season of limiting their opponents' shooting success from downtown (31.2 percent; No. 33 in the nation).
By running the Orange's shooters off the 3-point line, WMU can keep Syracuse from building a lead or cutting into a deficit.
Orange X Factor #2: Limiting Opponents' Scoring
Over the years, much of Syracuse's success has been built on playing suffocating zone defense.
When they are effective in their vaunted 2-3 zone, teams have trouble getting into their offensive sets and putting points on the board.
The 2013-14 season is no different than any other. On the year, the Orange are holding their opponents to 59.5 PPG (NCAA.com), which is No. 9 in the country.
Syracuse has not lost a game this season when their opponents have scored less than 60 points. However, in each of the five games that the Orange have lost, their opponents have scored more than 60.
This is not about slowing the pace of games down.
This is about Jim Boeheim's squad being effective at challenging shots, controlling the defensive glass and holding opponents' scoring in check.
Broncos' X Factor #1: Effectiveness Inside the Arc
Anyone who has watched Syracuse play in the last three decades knows that head coach Jim Boeheim is fully committed to his overpowering 2-3 zone defense.
If Western Michigan is going to have a chance to pull off a huge second round upset, they need to find ways to effectively break down the Orange's D.
Ironically, the Broncos do some of their best work inside the arc. This season, WMU has connected on 54.1 percent of its 2-point attempts, which was No. 14 in the nation.
They not only knock down better than half of their two's, they also repeatedly get to the line. Their 51.7 percent free throw rate (FTA/FGA) shows their aggressiveness in getting to the rim.
At 6'11," senior center Shayne Whittington is more than capable of getting his shots and scoring in the paint. Sophomore forward Connar Tava shoots 60.4 percent from the field and uses his strength and quickness to get work done.
Strength meets strength.
Could Western Michigan's ability to work well in the paint create some March Madness magic?
Orange X Factor #1: Taking Care of the Ball
Limiting turnovers is a plus during any time of the season, but it is even more critical during the NCAA tournament where every possession is priceless.
Of all of the strengths for which Syracuse is known (tough defense, ferocious rebounding, menacing shot blocking), their ability to take care of the basketball is undervalued.
On the year, the Orange averaged a measly 8.9 turnovers per game (No. 4 in the nation) and their turnover rate was 14.6 percent (No. 11). Freshman PG Tyler Ennis sets the standard for ball maintenance. He led the ACC in assists (5.6 APG). His 3.24 assist-to-turnover ratio is exceptional.
All kinds of good will happen during March Madness, starting in their second round contest with Western Michigan, if the Cuse can keep the TOs down
Even if Syracuse does not get back to "being Syracuse" in their game against Western Michigan, the Orange should have no problem beating the Broncos.
Watch for a refreshed team ready to make a deep run in this year's NCAA tournament.
Prediction: Syracuse beats WMU by no less than 18 points.
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