(1) Syracuse vs. (8) Kansas State: East Region
Syracuse 32-2, 17-1 Big East (Regular-season Conference Champions; At large)
Kansas State 22-10, 10-8 Big 12 (At large)
Time: 12:15 p.m. Saturday
Location: Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh
Winner will face: (4) Wisconsin or (5) Vanderbilt, Thursday at Boston
First Round Results
Syracuse def. UNC-Asheville 72-65
Kansas State def. Southern Miss 70-64
Syracuse No. 2 AP; No. 2 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Kansas State No. 37 AP; No. 32 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Kansas State 38
Line: Syracuse -5 (O/U 135½)
Players to Watch
Syracuse: F Kris Joseph, 6-7 Sr. (13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 spg); G Dion Waiters, 6-4 So. (12.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg); F James Southerland, 6-8 Jr. (6.6 ppg, 3 rpg, 31% 3s). Southerland continues to step up when he’s needed most. On Thursday, he hit 6-of-8 shots, including three of his five 3s, and had 15 points and eight rebounds in the victory over Asheville.
Kansas State: G Rodney McGruder, 6-4 Jr. (15.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 39% 3s); F Jamar Samuels, 6-7 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.3 apg); C Jordan Henriquez, 6-11 Jr. (7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.4 bpg). Henriquez dominated the paint against Southern Miss with 15 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. Henriquez, who was also 9-for-10 from the foul line Thursday, has blocked 21 shots in the Wildcats’ last five games and has made 19 of his last 27 shots.
Why Each Team Dangerous
Syracuse: Even with the loss of Fab Melo, who has been suspended for the season, the Orange have deep talent. Six active Syracuse players average at least 6.6 points, eight average at least two boards. Even without Melo, the Orange can go nine deep. Syracuse’s defense is still its strength – as it has been for years – Opponents shoot just 38.5 percent overall and 30.6 from deep against them. They average 9.6 steals and 14.6 steals per 100 possessions. Both rank third in college basketball. Syracuse has a 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks fifth in the country.
Kansas State: The Wildcats played exceptional defense Thursday. Despite Southern Miss getting off to a hot start, the Eagles shot just 36.7 percent from the field against K-State’s smothering defense. For the season, opponents are shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor and 31.8 from 3. Kansas State blocks five shots per game, which ranks 24th in the nation. The Wildcats average 37.3 rebounds per game and have a plus-4.9 rebound margin.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Syracuse: The Orange offense has really struggled since the beginning of January. After scoring at least 68 points in 16 of their first 21 games, they have averaged 64 points in their last eight games. The absence of Melo, Syracuse’s defense clearly isn’t the same, either. And the Orange out-rebounded the smaller Bulldogs just 33-31 Thursday. There are definitely issues for Syracuse, especially in the long term.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are turnover prone. They have more turnovers (449) than assists (448) this season. Freshman PG Angel Rodriguez is particularly mistake-prone, as most freshmen point guards are. He averages a team-best 3.2 assists, but he turns the ball over 2.6 times per contest. Even when the Wildcats get a shot, they’re not a great shooting team. Despite size advantages on a lot of night, they are shooting just 44.3 percent from the floor and 34.2 from beyond the 3-point stripe.
The Bottom Line: Kansas State is going to be the popular pick after the Orange struggled to put away Asheville. Don’t buy it. Syracuse will force the Wildcats into a lot of mistakes and take advantage of it with easy buckets. It won’t be a blowout, but it won’t be close, either.
The Pick: Syracuse 85, Kansas State 74
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 206-158-6 (Through Thursday, March 16)