First Four: Texas Southern, Syracuse to Advance from Wednesday

syracuse basketball

Matthew Jordan

Monday, March 12, 2018 11:51 AM GMT

Monday, Mar. 12, 2018 11:51 AM GMT

The First Four wraps up from the University of Dayton on Wednesday night with 16 seeds Texas Southern and North Carolina Central in the first game, and 11 seeds Syracuse and Arizona State in the nightcap.

No. 16 Texas Southern (15-19, 6-1 ATS) vs. No. 16 NC Central (19-15, 5-1 ATS)

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Free NCAAB Pick: Texas SouthernBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Texas Southern finished tied for second in the SWAC regular-season standings – Grambling was the champion – and beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the tournament final to become the only school with a losing record in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The Tigers started the season 0-13 but played a really tough non-conference schedule and all on the road against the likes of Gonzaga, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Clemson, Oregon, Baylor, TCU and BYU. TSU literally didn’t have a single home game in the entire 2017 portion of its schedule.

It’s the eighth all-time appearance in the Big Dance for Texas Southern, and it was blown out by North Carolina in the first round last year 103-64. The Tigers have yet to win a game in the Big Dance. They are coached by Mike Davis, who led Indiana to the 2002 Final Four as its coach. Ken Pomeroy ranks TSU as the nation’s No. 249 team and 315th in defensive efficiency. It allows 79.7 ppg. It does have one guy who could cause anyone problems: 7-foot-2 junior Trayvon Reed. He averages 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.

North Carolina Central was the sixth-place team in the MEAC before winning the conference tournament. The Eagles used a late 11-0 run to break a 58-all tie and beat Hampton 71-63 in the title game. The championship -- and automatic NCAA Tournament berth -- is the second in a row and third in five years for the Eagles. It is 0-2 in the Big Dance, losing to UC Davis 67-63 in last year’s First Four. North Carolina Central is a deep team with 12 players averaging at least 10 minutes. Around 41 percent of NC Central's scoring comes from its bench. The team’s star is Kent State transfer Raasean Davis, a bruiser down low. KenPom has North Carolina Central No. 309 nationally. Go with Texas Southern for a Wednesday NCAAB pick.

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We're dancin' #OrangeNation!#MarchMadness

— Syracuse Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) March 11, 2018

No. 11 Syracuse (20-13, 14-17 ATS) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (20-11, 14-15-2 ATS)

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Free NCAAB Pick: SyracuseBest Line Offered: Bookmaker

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I don’t think Syracuse belongs in the field with its 8-10 record in the ACC and finishing behind Louisville, which didn’t get in (Orange did beat the Cardinals in the lone meeting, though). Apparently, the Orange were the last team in the field. They only beat one ranked team all season: Clemson.

That SU zone defense will give any opponent fits, especially with short preparation time. Syracuse allowed just 64.5 points per game. Jim Boeheim has a terrific backcourt of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard, who both average more than 38 minutes and combine for nearly 35 points per game.

There is one major common opponent for these two this season: Kansas. The Orange lost to the Jayhawks by 16 on Dec. 2 in Miami and the Sun Devils stunned KU on Lawrence by 10 on Dec. 10. Likely the only reason ASU got in the NCAA Tournament was that victory and a neutral-site win over Xavier. ASU was 8-10 in the Pac-12, which was good enough for eighth place. Yet it got in ahead of USC, Utah, Stanford, Oregon and Washington, which all finished higher and with winning conference records.

Coach Bobby Hurley usually goes with a four-guard lineup, led by Tra Holder (18.7 ppg). He took 25.8 percent of the team's shots when on the floor. That guard-heavy lineup often also means the Sun Devils are killed on the boards. They are 240th in the country in rebounding margin at minus-1.0 per game. Arizona State closed the season losing five of six.

It’s only the second all-time meeting between these schools. In the 2009 NCAA Tournament, SU beat a James Harden-led ASU team 78-67 in Miami. Wednesday’s winner gets Midwest No. 6 seed TCU on Friday in Detroit. Go with Syracuse simply as the ACC is better than the Pac-12.

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