NCAA Basketball Picks: Back Syracuse -6.5 vs. Middle Tennessee In Low-Scoring Game

Matthew Jordan

Saturday, March 19, 2016 9:43 PM UTC

Saturday, Mar. 19, 2016 9:43 PM UTC

Raise your hand if you had No. 15 Middle Tennessee and No. 10 Syracuse facing off for a spot in the Midwest Region's Sweet 16 in your NCAA Tournament Bracket. Didn't think so. The Orange are -6 on BetOnline's NCAA Basketball odds with a total of 132.

Blue Raiders Pull Biggest Upset Ever?
Whatever bracket system you use, I guarantee you that not a single player left in it has a perfect record through the first round. In fact, just using ESPN as an example with its millions of entries, there's no perfect bracket remaining. That's because No. 15 Middle Tennessee (25-9) upset No. 2 Michigan State 90-81 on Friday. It was only the eighth time  a No. 15 seed upset a No. 2 and I'd argue it was the biggest upset in tournament history because some books had Sparty as the overall tournament favorite ahead of Kansas.

In fact, the sportsbooks were giddy after that upset because of all the action taken on Michigan State to win the national title. Middle Tennessee wouldn't even have been in the NCAA Tournament if not for winning the Conference USA Tournament. The Blue Raiders caught a break there, too, because regular-season champion UAB -- the C-USA Tournament was in Birmingham -- was upset on the  other side of the bracket.

That said, Friday's win was very well deserved. MT never trailed for a second. Guard Giddy Potts is the nation's top 3-point shooter by percentage and hit 3-for-5 from long range, finishing with 19 points and five rebounds. Reggie Upshaw led the team with 21 points -- all five MT starters scored in double figures. The Blue Raiders shot 55.9 percent from the field overall and 57.9 percent from long range (11-for-19). MT ranks 14th nationally in 3-point percentage as a team. Its biggest weakness is free-throw shooting as it was nearly last in the country in percentage from the stripe. And MT was just 13-for-21 there on Friday.

Middle Tennessee is 18-14 against the spread this season on NCAA Tournament odds and 14-17-1 O/U.


Orange Proving Doubters Wrong
Syracuse (20-13) was a very controversial at-large choice for the NCAA Tournament after losing five of its final six games, but no doubt Coach Jim Boeheim simply used that as motivation for his players. And SU beat No. 7 Dayton 70-51 on Friday. Malachi Richardson led the way with 21 points, which was the first time a Syracuse freshman scored more than 20 in an NCAA Tournament game since some guy named Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Whatever happened to him? Junior Tyler Roberson added 10 points and 18 rebounds. Leading scorer  Michael Gbinije, an All-ACC Second-Team selection, struggled by hitting just 3-for-11 from the field. The Orange won't go much further if he's not hitting.

The Orange are not a deep team at all as Boeheim generally only trusts freshman Tyler Lydon off the bench. He had 14 points in 27 minutes vs. Dayton. Only one other reserve played and that was for eight minutes. So foul trouble or an injury to a starter could be devastating.

This will be a great matchup because Syracuse with its vaunted 2-3 zone forces teams to hit from the perimeter, and MT is good at that. But SU also has major length at the top of that zone, so most teams struggle from long range. Dayton was just 6-for-22 from the 3-point arc.

"We know they like to play zone," Middle Tennessee State forward Aldonis Foote said to reporters after Friday's win about Syracuse. "And you know we don't miss a lot of shots."

This is the first-ever meeting between the schools. The Orange are 17-15 ATS on NCAA Tournament picks and 17-15 O/U as well.


Common Opponents
Syracuse played one Conference USA team, beating Charlotte 83-70 on Nov. 25 in a holiday tournament in the Bahamas. This will be the third Power 5 school that Middle Tennessee has faced this season. There was of course Michigan State and the Blue Raiders beat a pretty bad Auburn team 88-81 in overtime on Dec. 12. MT didn't play an ACC team. It was 2-0 vs. Charlotte this season, winning 73-72 in Charlotte on Jan. 14 and 79-61 in the Conference USA Tournament opener.

The law of averages says MT's 3-point shooting will be off this game.  And while Sparty might have taken the Blue Raiders lightly at first, that won't happen here. Take Syracuse -- dealing with that zone on a quick turnaround makes it tougher -- and go 'under.' The 'under ' is 5-2 in MT's past seven games and 5-1 in SU's past six NCAA Tournament games.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Syracuse -6.5 & Under 131
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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