‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Breakdown Syracuse’s First Four Matchup with Arizona State
With Syracuse dancing for the first time since 2016, can the Orange get by Arizona State in the First Four and move into the field of 64? The ‘Cuse Countdown analysts are on a similar page when it comes to Wednesday night’s matchup.
Key to the Game: Contain ASU’s 3-Point Shooters
Everyone knows Tyus Battle and Frank Howard can knock down shots from beyond the arc when needed, but the Sun Devils have even more options when it comes to shooting threes. ASU senior guards in Tra Holder, Kodi Justice, and Shannon Evans II all shoot over 30 percent on the season from long range while freshman Remy Martin is shooting nearly 40 percent. As the 2-3 zone often leaves the Orange vulnerable against good 3-point shooting teams, Syracuse has to make a point of reducing the Sun Devils’ 3-point chances.
Prediction: Syracuse 75-70
After a disheartening loss to UNC in the second round of the ACC Tournament, who would have thought the Orange would be here playing in the big dance? It’s safe to say a decent amount of Orange fans did not. Both of these teams squeaked into the tournament and have the opportunity to prove themselves. ASU has the advantage when it comes to depth and offensive diversity. But this Syracuse defense has had impressive performances of late, including against Clemson and Wake Forest. The Orange offense has to capitalize off the defense shutting down the Sun Devils’ scoring attack. In the end, Syracuse will move on to Detroit.
Key to the Game: Do Not Settle
When the Syracuse offense has had bad games, it’s usually been a result of settling for deep, contested jumpers. If Syracuse is going to make some noise, SU needs to do what the team has done when the offense has clicked: get to the foul line. The Orange leads the ACC in free-throws attempted this season. On teams like this Syracuse squad, who struggle at times to score, getting easy points at the line is critical. Expect the team to shoot at least 20 shots from the stripe if SU wins.
Prediction: Syracuse 75-69
After squeaking into the tournament, I expect the Syracuse offense to come out playing free. SU’s offense has shown flashes of improvement over the last 10 games. If the Orange can score over 70 points in this game, SU should win. Syracuse’s 16th ranked defense will keep the Sun Devils point total down enough. If SU gets consistent point production in this one, expect the Orange to advance.
Key to the Game: Force Turnovers
One of Arizona State’s biggest issues down the stretch has been its lack of ability to take care of the ball. Turnovers plagued the Sun Devils, including a loss versus Oregon State in which ASU committed 16 giveaways. Syracuse’s strength is its defense—it forced Wake Forest and Clemson into 12 turnovers each. If SU can replicate those performances, it can stifle Arizona State’s offense.
Prediction: Syracuse 71-65
The Sun Devils limped to the finish line, losing five of their last six games. SU seems to have found its stride, with two straight victories before a loss to eventual ACC finalist North Carolina. ASU has struggled against zones this season—it couldn’t solve longtime ‘Cuse assistant Mike Hopkins’ zone earlier this season. As a result, SU’s defense should carry it to a first four victory.
Key to the Game: Keep it Clean
Arizona State is at its best when it turns its defense into offense. The Sun Devils force 14.9 turnovers per game, the second-most in the Pac-12. In a 16-point win over No. 1 seed Xavier earlier this year, the ASU scored 22 points off 13 turnovers. Bobby Hurley’s squad then scored 25 points off 16 turnovers in a ten-point victory over other No. 1 seed Kansas. The Orange cannot allow ASU to get easy break away looks off of turnovers. Tyus Battle and Frank Howard will be under heavy defensive pressure, so secondary ball handlers like Oshae Brissett and perhaps Marek Dolezaj will have to act as safety valves in some situations. Syracuse needs to control the pace and make the Sun Devils to earn buckets against the zone, which is no easy task.
Prediction: Syracuse 70-65
This First Four matchup is the essence of the NCAA Tournament: two controversial bubble teams from opposite ends of the country with almost zero familiarity squaring off in a win-or-go-home situation. A regular season contest played over a month ago compelled me to pick the Orange in this one. On February 1, Arizona State lost a tough in conference game on the road: the final score was 68-64, and the opponent was Washington. Huskies head coach Mike Hopkins, former right hand man to Jim Boeheim at SU, implemented the same 2-3 zone at Washington as the Orange. The zone held ASU 11 points below its scoring average and ten percent below their average 3-point percentage. Most ACC teams that face Syracuse once or twice every year still struggle with Boeheim’s zone. Arizona State has only seen this type of defense once, and they struggled mightily. In this case, lack of familiarity favors the Orange. The zone will prevail in this showdown in Dayton.
Key To The Game: Control The Tempo
Arizona State’s style is quite the opposite of Syracuse’s. The Sun Devils want to play fast and make this a high-scoring shootout. SU needs to be disciplined and stick to its strengths Wednesday night. If the Orange can slow down this game and keep it fairly low-scoring, SU will be tough to beat.
Prediction: Syracuse 70-64
ASU might have more offensive weapons than Syracuse, but the Sun Devils come into this game completely reeling. Arizona State has lost 11 of its last 19 and zone defenses have given it fits all season. Not to mention Syracuse has a big size advantage and should control the glass. This one might get close down the stretch, but in the end the Orange will advance to Detroit.
Key to the Game: Control the Pace of Play
While seven possessions a game may not seem like a large gap, it separates Arizona State, an an offense that is one of the 50 fastest in the country, and Syracuse, who sits just outside the bottom 25. The attacks of the Sun Devils and the Orange clash so strongly that much of how this game is decided will come down to who controls the tempo and aggressiveness. Syracuse will be in trouble if they allow ASU to push the floor, but don’t expect the Sun Devils to excel if the ‘Cuse gets set up in its half court defense.
Prediction: Syracuse 70-66
Arizona State was held below 65 points just once all season. While the Sun Devils’ offense is potent, it found its match against a coach Syracuse knows well: Mike Hopkins. The former Syracuse assistant’s Washington Huskies unsurprisingly run a zone defense, and it worked wonders against ASU. The Sun Devils were unable to exploit the commonly cited weaknesses of the zone. They shot less than 27 percent from deep and were outrebounded by the Huskies. The short turnaround to play in the First Four only helps the Orange. Syracuse may have been the last team to get into the field, but it won’t be one of the first to leave.
Key to the Game: Get in the Passing Lanes
Arizona State possesses an explosive offense, ranking first in the Pac-12 this season with 83.5 points per game. The Sun Devils also don’t beat themselves—of the 68 teams to hear their names called on Sunday, Bobby Hurley’s squad ranks fourth in turnover margin. For Syracuse, Frank Howard’s length at the top of the 2-3 was a huge factor during the 2017-18 campaign as the guard led the ACC with just under two thefts per contest. SU must force Arizona State to cough up the basketball, and, in turn, gain extra possessions for an oftentimes abysmal Orange offense. In the Sun Devils’ three strongest wins against Kansas, Xavier, and Utah, all away from the Wells Fargo Arena, the team averaged just 11 turnovers while just giving away nine total turnovers in the team’s final two losses this season.
Prediction: Syracuse 77-73
ASU has struggled against its easier opponents, proven in its defeats to Colorado and twice to Stanford. Conversely, SU has challenged tough opponents down the stretch of the season like Clemson, North Carolina, and Miami to some back-and-forth affairs. In order for the Orange to make a surprising run, it must be matched up against struggling defensive squads that offset SU’s lack of offensive weapons. The Sun Devils fit that description as the 254th-ranked scoring defense in the nation. Barring a 3-point shootout from Arizona State’s backcourt in Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, who each shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc, expect Otto’s outfit to be delivered from Dayton to Detroit.
Key to the Game: Syracuse’s 2-3 Zone
It’s been SU’s bread and butter all season. The Orange’s 16th ranked defense has shut down some of the ACC’s best offenses, allowing just under 65 points per game. That defense will need to be at its best if ‘Cuse wants to beat an Arizona State team that scores an average of 84 points per game. That puts the Sun Devils at 11th in the country. This game should be very concerning for Syracuse’s defense because, like Boston College, Arizona State is led by two dynamic guards in Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II. Holder averages 18 points per game and shoots 37 percent from deep, while Evans II averages 16 ppg and hits 37 percent from behind the arc as well. Good shooting guards has been SU’s kryptonite all season, so keep an eye on how well those two perform against the zone.
Prediction: Syracuse 71-66
At one point, Arizona State was one of the best teams in the country. That’s simply no longer the case. The Sun Devils limp into the NCAA tournament having lost five of their last six games. Additionally, there’s a reason Syracuse’s defense is difficult to play against in March. On short notice, it’s almost impossible to get a feel for and simulate SU’s defense in one day of practice. With Arizona State essentially practicing for one day and then hopping on a flight to Dayton, the Sun Devils have had no time to experience one of the best versions of the 2-3 zone they’ve seen all year.