Syracuse wasn’t sure if it was going to make the NCAA Tournament this year, but the Orange are in and facing a seemingly under-seeded San Diego State team. Who will come out on top? Join us for an in-depth analysis and a pick, courtesy of SBR.
Syracuse Orange vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Friday, March 19, 2021 – 09:40 PM EDT at Hinkle Fieldhouse
Syracuse wasn’t sure if it was going to make the NCAA Tournament this year. The Orange were firmly on the NCAA Bubble, and, according to many projections, on the wrong side of it, after going 16-9, 9-7 in the ACC. The Orange won three straight before a buzzer beater by Virginia knocked them out of the ACC Tournament in the quarterfinals.
Not only did the orange make it, but they avoided the First Four, reserved for the last four teams to make the field. The reward for the Orange is a No. 11 seed and a game against a seemingly under-seeded San Diego State.
The Aztecs are No. 16 in the AP Top 25, No. 18 in the NET rankings, No. 10 in Torvik, No. 20 in KenPom … and a No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region. San Diego State has won 14 straight games and is 23-4, 14-3 in the Mountain West and the conference’s tournament champions.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim agrees that San Diego State is a tough No. 6 seed, saying, “They're really good. You couldn't get a tougher matchup.”
One thing working in the Orange’s favor is Boeheim’s zone defense. Syracuse is always a preparation problem for opponents, who don’t often see a team dedicated to playing the 2-3 Zone. Syracuse was No. 62 in the country in three-point defense this season and No. 65 in turnover rate on defense as opponents settled for bad outside shots or tried unsuccessfully to get the ball inside.
“We’ve seen very limited zone all year. I think Air Force tried to zone us. They played a matchup and some switching,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said. “We haven’t played against a 2-3 zone the entire season. So we’re going to see one for 40 minutes.”
Dutcher did point out he had plenty of time to prepare, and his Aztecs will be facing the Orange away from Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, where it was 13-1 this season. The Cuse was just 3-8 away from home and 1-7 against Quad 1 foes, so keep that in mind for your sports betting.
What Might Have Been
This is San Diego State’s first trip to the tournament since 2018, but only because last year’s March Madness was wiped out by the pandemic. The Aztecs finished last season 30-2 and were a surefire No. 1 seed, which a strong chance of advancing to the Final Four and winning the whole thing.
With five seniors and two juniors among the Aztecs’ rotation this year, San Diego State certainly has a strong memory of last season’s disappointment.
“I think last year’s still a little bittersweet,” said Matt Mitchell, the Mountain West Tournament MVP and the Aztecs leading scorer. “But (making the tournament) kind of does, in a sense, wash it away for the older guys.”
Immediately after winning the Mountain West Tournament, the team contacted last year’s player of the year, Malachi Flynn, now playing for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors to get some inspiration for the March run.
The Aztecs have an experienced lineup and it's reflected on the college basketball lines. While they may not be familiar with the zone defense this year, they had very little trouble with Air Force’s zone, winning the two games with the Falcons by 37 and 32 points. San Diego State hit 29-of-59 from three in those two games, which highlights one advantage the Aztecs have against the Syracuse defense.
SDSU is the No. 27 team in the nation at three-point accuracy, hitting .375 from outside this year. The Aztecs also protect the ball on offense and should have the patience to find seams in the Syracuse zone.
It’s the other end of the court that could decide things. San Diego State is No. 9 in the country in defensive efficiency, No. 21 at forcing turnovers, and No. 13 at defending two-point shots. Look for the Aztecs to throttle the Orange offense and pull away in a first round win.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.