Previewing No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 Baylor: Date, Time, Players to Watch

The Orange are back in the dance after seemingly being on the bubble. The Bears were able to navigate through the Big 12 with enough victories to secure an at-large bid. This 8 vs. 9 matchup features two zone-heavy teams and should be a low-scoring slugfest.


Date/Time: Thursday, March 21, 9:57 p.m. ET projections: Syracuse def. Baylor 68-67

Betting Line: Syracuse -2 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)

No. 8 seed Syracuse

Coach: Jim Boeheim

Record: 20-13 (10-8)

Conference tournament finish: Lost in quarterfinals

Player to Watch: Tyus Battle

The Orange having success against Duke this season should give Syracuse fans confidence about their squad’s talent level. The zone, however, is not as comforting.

Syracuse makes impact plays on the defensive end at elite levels, according to The Orange also block shots at the ninth best rate in the country and steal the ball better than every team but one. They force turnovers at the 10th best rate in the country. Defensively, Syracuse is a force. However, 3-point shooting teams will be able to carve up the zone defense.

The Orange have non-conference wins against tournament-bound Northeastern and Ohio State, but also have losses to Buffalo and Old Dominion. That’s the nature of the zone defense Syracuse relies on — it can win against anyone, but also come up short on any given night.

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No. 9 seed Baylor

Coach: Scott Drew

Record: 19-13 (10-8)

Conference tournament finish: Lost in quarterfinals

Player to Watch: Makai Mason

The Bears don’t have lethal 3-point shooting, but they have enough competent options to give Syracuse some trouble. Baylor has four players who hit 3-pointers at a 35 percent clip or better, meaning Syracuse can’t key in on a singular player.

That being said, Mason is going to be important for Baylor. He’s the top distributor with 3.3 assists per game. Ironically, Mason helped upset the Bears as a member of Yale in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. This time, he’ll be tasked with navigating Syracuse’s zone.

Baylor is a tremendous rebounding team, particularly on the offensive boards. The Bears have the second best offensive rebound percentage in the country and pulled down the 10th most offensive rebounds per game in the regular season. Second-chance points could be huge if 3-pointers aren’t falling for Baylor.

The Bears have a non-conference win over Oregon, but most of their big games came in conference play. They’ve lost their last four games, but a hot shooting day against Syracuse could get them back in the win column when it matters.

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