#8 Kansas State vs. #1 Syracuse -4.5
The question as to whether or not the ‘Cuse can still contend for a Final Four berth without star center Fab Melo was nowhere close to answered in Thursday’s tourney opener. The Orange needed all forty minutes to finally edge out the #16 seed North Carolina Asheville, even benefiting from a bizarre out of bounds call with just a three point lead and less than thirty seconds to play. The Orange won 82-75, but the game was in question until the final minutes.
Meanwhile, Kansas State looked quick, tough and athletic in their efficient and dominant win over Southern Mississippi in the #8/#9 game. Guard Rodney McGruder echoed shades of Jacob Pullen and Michael Beasley with his 30-point performance in the opener.
The result of each of these surprising opening performances is a much tighter line that we might have had just one week ago (even with Melo suspended). The ironic thing about Melo’s suspension is that if it leads to an upset win in tomorrow’s game, it might finally be the thing that gets some heat thrown Jim Boeheim’s direction. Forget the sexual molestation charges against a long time assistant coach, to heck with a defamation suit filed against Boeheim himself – LOSE early in the tournament, and all of a sudden the scrutiny shall follow… However, that is neither here nor there for tomorrow’s matchup. What is of pressing concern is whether or not Syracuse can muster enough offense against K State’s relentless physical defense.
Syracuse’s guards are as smart as any backcourt in the country (right on par with Temple and North Carolina), but I am not sure they are explosive scorers. They could struggle to get points against Kansas State. However, I think Kansas State will find the zone of Syracuse even more befuddling. Kansas State like to penetrate and slash to the hoop. Those lanes won’t be as readily available against the vaunted ‘Cuse 2-3 zone.
Kansas State enters the game 22-10 while Syracuse is a ridiculous 32-2. You don’t get there just because of one player – especially one who averages less than ten points a game. Yes, the sleepwalked through the opener. It happens ALL the time; good teams escape within a hair of disaster and end up having great tourney runs (Tyus Edney, UCLA 1995 anyone??). I think people are putting a little too much stock in one sluggish performance. I expect Syracuse to come out much sharper, much more intent on attacking the basket and much more diligent in defending the three point line. I like them to get out to an early lead and keep Kansas State at a comfortable distance most of the day.
Free Pick: Syracuse Orangemen -4.5 <– click for $520 free on 1st deposit