(10) Syracuse Orange vs (7) Dayton Flyers (-1, 130.5)
There was a time, long ago, when the Dayton Flyers (25-7, 14-4 A 10) under Don Donoher were a force in college basketball. But for a younger generation, many of us didn’t really get exposed to Flyer basketball until two years ago, when they turned the NCAA Tournament on its head with a surprise run to the Elite Eight. During that run, they upset a no. 3 Syracuse team. Now the roles have been reversed, and the Orange (19-13, 9-9 ACC) can extract some semblance of revenge when they meet the Flyers in the first-round this Friday (12:15 PM Eastern at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis).
Syracuse is in unfamiliar territory as a no. 10 seed: it’s the first time they’ve been a double-digit seed in the tournament. Of course, in the court of public opinion, the verdict is that a no. 10 seed is still too high for the Orange. This was a team that lost five of their last six and finished tenth in the ACC before dropping their first conference tourney game to Pitt.
While it might not be as strong a Cuse team as usual, they still have a lot of similarities to past incarnations, most notably, Jim Boeheim’s disruptive 2-3 zone. This season, the Orange limited opponents just 65.7 points a game and were particularly good at getting out to the edges, where opponents shot just 30.4-percent from three.
It wasn’t Syracuse’s defense that let them down in a 55-53 loss to Dayton in Buffalo back in 2014, though. The Orange shot a dismal 39-percent from the field – including 0-10 from behind the arc – and still had a chance to win it on a last second shot, but Tyler Ennis clanked one. A lack of closing ability plagued this year’s team too, most recently in the loss to Pitt when Trevor Cooney missed a game-winning three in the dying seconds.
Offensively, the Orange should be prepared for another low-scoring affair this time around, as Dayton is equally strong in their end of the court. The Flyers hold opponents to 65.8 points per game, including just 40.5-percent shooting from the field. And while Dayton doesn’t have a huge lineup, they hit the boards a lot harder than Syracuse, ranking 14th in the nation in defensive rebounds.
Dyshawn Pierre remains the player to watch on this team. A major part of the 2014 run, Pierre was suspended to start the year, rejoining the team at the beginning of 2016. The team’s leading rebounder has slowly gotten his form back and is coming off a 22-point performance in the Atlantic 10 semifinal against Saint Joseph’s. Then-freshman Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, and Kyle Davis also played roles in Dayton’s win over Syracuse, and they’ve been huge contributors in their junior years.
The Orange offense will rely heavily on senior Michael Gbinije, a threat to score from anywhere on the court. But the reliance on Gbinije and the rest of Syracuse’s starting five highlights a problem that has long hounded the team: depth. If anyone gets into foul trouble, the top-heavy Orange could get exposed.
It’s a good thing this game is basically a pick’em, because Dayton has not been doing well against the spread: the Flyers have covered just once in their last ten outings. Syracuse has been much more consistent, going 5-5 ATS.
Still, this is not a Syracuse team that fills me with confidence. For this rematch, put the conferences aside and roll with the higher seed.
Pick: Dayton (-1).
(Photo Credit: Chad Cooper (Originally uploaded to Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].)