‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Breakdown Syracuse’s Matchup with TCU
After dispatching of Arizona State in the First Four, Syracuse heads to the Round of 64 with TCU awaiting. Our analysts give their keys to the game and predict if the Orange can keep dancing.
Key to the Game: Be Prepared to Battle on the Glass
Wednesday night’s matchup against ASU was about as evenly matched as you can get for the Orange. But Syracuse managed to pull down 37 rebounds, edging out the Sun Devils by just three boards. Those rebounds may have been the difference between the Orange moving on and going home. Now Syracuse faces another test in TCU, who pulls down an average of 36 rebounds per game, just one less than the Orange’s 37. Experienced guard Kenrich Williams leads the Horned Frogs with 9.3 rebounds per game, but watch out especially for Vladimir Brodziansky, a 6-foot-11 forward who can give Chukwu and Brissett a run for their money in their paint. If the Orange wants to keep dancing, it has to come ready to battle down low.
Prediction: Syracuse 66-63
After a 60-56 win over ASU, it’s clear early on that the Orange is going to use its defense to try and make a run in this tournament. Syracuse handled itself well against the potent Sun Devils offense, and now faces a TCU team who has struggled somewhat without one of its top scorers in Jaylen Fisher. Expect this one to be back and forth all the way through, and Syracuse’s slight advantage in free throw shooting could be a major factor as it squeaks its way into the round of 32.
Key to the Game: Penetrate on Offense
In case you forgot, in Syracuse’s three worst offensive performances of the season against Notre Dame (49 points), Virginia (44 points) and Duke (44 points) the Orange shot six, nine and six free throws respectively. For SU to consistently put up enough points to win this game the Orange needs to be aggressive and attack the rim. When SU scored 73 points in the ACC Tournament in a win over Wake Forest, Syracuse went to the stripe 29 times. For the Orange to get enough consistent offense in this game, SU needs to drive and pick up fouls. It is a large part of the Orange offense.
Prediction: Syracuse 68-63
Expect the SU defense to play well again, and let’s be honest people, this is March. What that means is that this game will come down to who can hit more big shots. After the shotmaking display down the stretch against Arizona State, I believe SU has the guys you need in March to make big shots down the stretch. That is why I see the Orange advancing.
Key to the Game: Draw Fouls
In TCU’s Big 12 Tournament loss to Kansas State, the Wildcats went to the foul line 17 times — the difference in a two-point overtime win. That, combined with the fact the Horned Frogs are lacking depth (with the loss of point guard Jalen Fisher), means SU needs to get to the charity stripe. Syracuse was able to do it versus Arizona State (23 free throw attempts), and if it can draw fouls against TCU, it has a chance to knock off the higher-seeded Frogs.
Prediction: Syracuse 64-61
On paper, TCU’s 21-11 record seems like a strong mark in one of the country’s best conferences. But the Horned Frogs went just 3-16 versus Big 12 opponents that made the NCAA Tournament, including an early exit from the league playoffs. Syracuse is battle-tested; it won a key ACC tourney against Wake Forest to get into the big dance, and knocked off ASU to set up this matchup with TCU. If the Orange plays as well defensively as it did on Tuesday, it can move on to the round of 32.
Key to the Game: Protect the Paint
In terms of offensive production, TCU is similar to Arizona State, but more consistent and more dangerous. The Horned Frogs finished first in the Big Twelve in field goal percentage (49 percent), second in three-point field goal percentage (40 percent), and second in overall scoring offense (83 PPG). TCU’s top scorers, Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams, check in at 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-7, respectively. Their size and versatility pose problems for the zone. Brodziansky is a smooth operator down low who can finish with ease from the 10-12 foot range. Williams is TCU’s version of Oshae Brissett: he’s one rebound shy of averaging a double-double, and he’s also shooting 40 percent from deep. First and foremost, the ‘Cuse defense needs to clog up any easy buckets at the rim. Yes, the Horned Frogs can stick it from outside. But closing up the paint will force TCU to take contested shots.
Prediction: Syracuse 72-70
There is a plethora of intriguing storylines headed into this contest: Jim Boeheim and former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon squaring off yet again, a high-powered offense versus a suffocating zone defense and a terrific mascot matchup, to name a few. Wednesday night’s win proved that the 2-3 zone is the Orange’s biggest weapon in March. Arizona State’s 56 points was a season low for the Sun Devils. While at Pitt, Jamie Dixon did accrue a record of 15-6 against the Orange, but that was with teams that faced the Orange twice, even three times a year. I expect Boeheim’s 2-3 zone to stymie yet another offensive juggernaut. Also, I am 100 percent behind Tyus Battle’s new nickname. Look for the Orange Mamba to strike in the clutch once more in this one.
Key to the Game: Frank Howard Bounces Back
I don’t know if it was the strep throat that has apparently been bothering Howard all week or what, but he did not look like himself Wednesday night. The junior point guard only went four for 13 from the floor against Arizona State and scored only six points in the final 34 minutes. Luckily for SU, Brissett had a career night (23 points, 12 rebounds) and Battle hit some clutch shots in crunch time. However, with a stronger opponent in TCU next up, Syracuse is going to need all of its big three to step up and Howard to bounce-back.
Prediction: TCU 75-66
I’m afraid Jamie Dixon is going to improve to 16-6 against Jim Boeheim all-time. Look, getting by Arizona State is one thing but TCU is a different animal. The Horned Frogs’ Kenrich Williams is going to be an absolute matchup problem for Syracuse. The 6-foot-7 forward averages almost 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. It’s hard to see Syracuse creating enough offense to keep pace with Williams and the rest of TCU’s high scoring offense.
Key to the Game: Avoid Early Foul Trouble
Syracuse’s lack of depth always means that fouling out is not an option. In its matchup with SU, no Orange player picked up more than three fouls. However, foul trouble still affected Syracuse. Oshae Brissett’s picked up two quick fouls in the first six minutes which earned him a rare trip to the bench. With Matt Moyer suddenly in the game for SU, it served as a reminder that the Orange can’t afford players picking up fouls that force them out because while most teams can simply rest a player in early foul trouble, coach Boeheim has his hands tied with three players who are in the top six nationally in minutes played. For Syracuse to get by TCU, it needs full games from its big three.
Prediction: Syracuse 64-60
Jim Boeheim-led Syracuse teams have won in the round of 64 in their last seven appearances. You have to go back to 2006 to find an SU exit that early. The biggest reason is the zone. Without seeing it in person, few can quickly change their instincts and make the plays that beat the unique 2-3 of SU. TCU head coach Jamie Dixon certainly knows the defense better than most. The former Pitt coach will likely be able to tell his players exactly what they need to do. However, mistakes will still be inevitable, and the added turnovers to the bad shots the zone forces, will lead to a bad day for a TCU team that is carried by its offense.
Key to the Game: More of the Same—But Better
Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone often appeared like a 3-2 zone in the win against Arizona State, as the wing defenders constantly inched forward to limit open 3-point opportunities from the Sun Devils’ trio of guards. While ASU’s Tra Holder, Kodi Justice, and Shannon Evans II only shot 10 of 29 from beyond the arc on Wednesday, TCU brings an even more explosive threesome to Detroit. Horned Frogs guards Kenrich Williams, Desmond Bane, and forward Kouat Noi each shoot over 40 percent from distance, and the team collectively also makes two out of every five 3-point shots. Jamie Dixon’s squad only knocked down 8.5 threes per game, just fourth out of the 10 teams in the Big 12, but they’ll of course receive some extra looks against the zone defense. Frank Howard and Tyus Battle must continue to extend their defense all the way to the end of the March Madness logo at center court, while Marek Dolezaj and Oshae Brissett must be ready to contest attempts from the wing.
Prediction: TCU 68-62
TCU brings a more solidified and versatile roster than SU saw in in the First Four matchup; the Horned Frogs finished first in the Big 12 in rebounding, averaged the most assists in the conference, and haven’t significantly wavered offensively following Jaylen Fisher’s season-ending meniscus injury in January. Even though this veteran-laden team lost its last two matchups, including an early exit in the conference tournament, TCU is fresh and had more time to prepare than the Orange. Moreover, health and fatigue may be a factor to watch, especially with Dolezaj and Brissett cringing after falls to the hardwood Wednesday. Hopefully for SU, the pair hit the ice bath immediately after the contest. But, Jim Boeheim constantly tells reporters how his squad is offensively challenged. So the question I’ll ask: did the 42-year head coach believe in his team enough to pack three suit combinations on his roadtrip, or only two?
Key to the Game: Tyus Battle Time
I’ve said this before as a key to the game, but it doesn’t make it any less true. In every big game of the season, Tyus Battle must be the fulcrum of the offense for Syracuse. The sophomore’s 20 PPG this season puts Battle in the top-15 Syracuse single-seasons in history. He’s scored in double digits in all but one of Syracuse’s games this year. Furthermore, Battle’s led the team in scoring in 23 of SU’s 35 games. If the dynamic scoring guard doesn’t show up to play, Syracuse can kiss the NCAA tournament goodbye because it is so reliant on his production.
Prediction: TCU 70-63
When Jamie Dixon left the ACC for TCU a year ago, Orange nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. The former Pittsburgh coach went 15-6 against Syracuse in 13 seasons at the helm of the Panthers. It would have been 16-5 too if Tyler Ennis hadn’t nailed that miraculous half-court game winner in 2014. Jamie Dixon now is at the helm of the TCU Horned Frogs. While TCU isn’t as talented as many of of those Pitt teams, it’s Dixon’s scheme that consistently won the day for the Panthers. For some reason, Dixon’s teams have a way of penetrating the top of the zone and moving the ball vertically to the low block for easy scores. If the Orange wants to pull off an upset in Detroit, they’ll need to protect its fatal flaw in the zone better than any game this year, because that’s exactly what the Horned Frogs will be looking to exploit.