As the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, both Buffalo and Syracuse had to wait sometime before finally hearing their names called. In the end, both upstate New York squads were selected to the West Region, highlighted by Gonzaga as the one seed and riddled with talent throughout. In arguably the toughest region, the West also includes the likes of Michigan, Texas Tech, Florida State, Marquette, Nevada, Murray State, and Florida. Syracuse finds themselves as the 8 seed taking on the 9 seeded Baylor Bears. Buffalo earned a 6 seed and a matchup with the winner of St. Johns/Arizona State on Wednesday night.
With only a few days to go, I thought it would be beneficial to quickly run through what type of matchup we should be expecting in the first round for both teams. And for those keeping track at home, the two squads could not meet until the Elite Eight round.
The Bulls will be slightly harder to dissect because their opponent is TBD. However, we can take a quick gander through both St. Johns and Arizona State.
With St. Johns, it was an up-and-down season that ultimately saw them finish 21-12 overall and sneak into the field with a First Four game ahead of them. The Red Storm started the season 12-0 against a weak non-conference schedule, defeating just one team in the current field of 68 during that run (VCU). After that, Big East Conference play was a bit of a head scratcher, as St. Johns defeated Marquette twice and also Villanova, but lost to teams such as Xavier and Depaul twice. The Johnnies are above average when it comes to scoring, averaging 78.1 PPG. The Red Storm have 5 players averaging double digits, with stud guard Shamorie Ponds leading the way with 19.5 PPG on 45.5% shooting. However, it’s the defensive struggles that have been their Achilles heel. St. Johns allowed 74.4 PPG this season, ranking them 253rd among 351 teams.
Eerily similar to St. Johns is the season that Arizona State had. They finished at 22-10 and also snuck into a First Four spot. They started their campaign off 7-0, but with key wins over Mississippi State and Utah State. They would then struggle and drop games to the likes of Vanderbilt, Princeton, Stanford, and Washington State to leave the committee with a tough decision. Arizona State also has a good offense, averaging 77.8 PPG, that is led by freshman guard Luguentz Dort (16.1 PPG). However, they have also struggled mightily at the defensive end, allowing 73.1 PPG. They also allowed a weak PAC 12 conference to shoot 48% from the floor against them. Yikes.
Both teams present a similar situation to Buffalo. Good offense, awful defense. I like the Bulls in either of these two matchups. Buffalo runs the floor too well and defends at too high of a level for either St. Johns or Arizona State to pull a first-round upset. Of course, the narrative we haven’t touched on is the potential matchup of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley and his former Buffalo squad. There’s a reason the Bulls face the winner of this game on Friday afternoon. Like I said previously, Buffalo should advance to the Round of 32.
The Orange march into Salt Lake City to take on the struggling Baylor Bears in an always tight 8/9 matchup. With talk of Syracuse’s potential second-round meeting with Gonzaga swirling, the Orange need to maintain focus against a well-coached Baylor team.
The Bears have battled injuries en route to a 19-13 rather unimpressive season. Their quality wins came against Arizona and Oregon from the PAC 12, paired with two wins against both Oklahoma and Iowa State. The final big win came against Texas Tech at home. However, Baylor stumbles into play on Thursday night having lost four games in a row. They will be without their leading scorer Tristan Clark for the rest of the season and guard Makai Mason has battled a toe injury for the past few games. It will have to be a gritty performace if they want to advance to the Round of 32.
In keeping with the theme of picking winners, I like the Orange to take care of business against Baylor. The return of Tyus Battle sets up Syracuse for potentially another deep tournament run. The recent emergence of Buddy Boeheim could be another big factor for the Orange. It is also a battle of the 2-3 Zones between Jim Boeheim and Scott Drew. Syracuse has struggled in recent years when playing against zone defenses, but look for the aforementioned Battle and Boeheim to stretch out the Bears’ 2-3 attack.