The Spartans second round opponent will be the 11th seeded Syracuse Orange, fresh off a pair of wins already in the tournament. The Orange knocked off Arizona State on Wednesday night in Dayton to advance to Detroit, where they then dispatched the sixth seeded TCU Horned Frogs to set up a showdown with MSU.
The Orange were one of the last teams in the field, and as a result will need to win three games to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. They finished the regular season at 20-13 overall and 8-10 in ACC play. That was actually a tie for 10th place in the conference with Notre Dame, and somehow got in over both ND and Louisville, who finished ahead of them in the conference standings.
Syracuse is coached by Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, who has been at the helm since 1976. He has over 900 wins, a national championship, and five Final Fours under his belt.
Syracuse played a decent non-conference schedule before heading through the gauntlet that is the ACC. They beat Maryland and Buffalo at home, but lost to Kansas on a neutral court by sixteen. They also dropped a home game to fellow first four winner St. Bonaventure.
They got off to a slow start in conference play, going just 1-4 in their first five games. They got themselves back to .500 by beating up on the bottom of the league, but finished poorly, losing three of their last four.
Their best conference wins were against Clemson and Virginia Tech and home, and at Miami. But they went 0-5 against Virginia, UNC and Duke.
The Orange are challenged on offense. They check in at 130th in offensive efficiency according to kenpom. They also are one of the slowest teams in the country in terms of tempo, both overall, and on offense.
They are the worst eFG percentage team in the tournament, checking in at 321st overall. This isn’t a fluke, they are a bad shooting team. They are 306th nationally from three-point range and 300th nationally on two-pointers.
The Orange also turn the ball over at a 19.2% clip, the same rate as Michigan State.
One thing they are good at, is offensive rebounding. They rank 13th in the country on the offensive glass, grabbing 34.8% of their missed shots. They are also pretty good at getting to the free throw line. They rank 30th in free throw rate and shot a solid 73.5% from the charity stripe.
The Orange are led by a trio of players that score in double figures, with sophomore guard Tyus Battle leading the way at 19.7 points per game. Battle leads the nation in percentage of minutes played and averages just under 39 minutes per game. He’s always out there.
Battle shoots 46% from two and 32.4% from three, despite being the team leader in three-point attempts. He is an 84.4% free throw shooter, and he gets to the line about 5.5 times per game.
Oshae Brissett and Franklin Howard also play nearly the entire game, with both of them averaging over 38 minutes per game as well. Both average 14.9 points per game as well.
Brissett is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.9 boards per game. He is also the team’s best defensive rebounder. Like the rest of his team, he is not a great shooter, just 34.6% beyond the arc and 36.2% inside of it. He does get to the line a lot and when he does he makes 78.6% of his attempts.
Howard leads the team in assists at just under five per game. He is second on the team in three-point attempts, but makes just a third of them. He’s not much better inside the arc where he shoots just 41.2 percent. He’s a solid 70% at the free throw line though.
After those three the Orange have 7-2 Paschal Chukwu, who isn’t a tremendous offensive player, averaging just 5.4 points per game, but is the team’s best offensive rebounder, and does shoot 66% from the floor. He is not a good free throw shooter though, at just 61.5 percent.
Marek Dolezaj, a 6-9 freshman also crashes the offensive glass and shoots at 54.9% from inside the arc, and can get to the free throw line, where he shoots 70 percent.
One thing the Orange have a lot of is size. Just about everyone they throw out there is 6-5 or taller. In fact they rank first in the country in average height. But they don’t have a ton of depth. Their starting five is out there most of the game, so any kind of foul trouble can really test them.
So you might be wondering how Syracuse managed to even get this far, and the answer to that is defense. The Orange run their patented zone defense, and it continues to give opponents fits. Syracuse checks in at 10th nationally in defensive efficiency.
The Orange are 20th in eFG%, and 15th in two-point defensive percentate. They are also a solid 57th in three-point defense, holding teams to just under 33% from beyond the arc.
They also block a lot of shots. The Orange are second to MSU in block percentage, surely a result of their length. They also get a lot of steals as a result of their zone, ranking 20th nationally in steal percentage.
One area they aren’t so great at is defensive rebounding, where they rank 203rd allowing teams to grab over 29% of their misses. This is an area that plays into MSU’s hands as the Spartans are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, grabbing over 36% of their missed shots.
Chuckwu is the big shot blocker, ranking eighth in the country in block percentage.
There is no mystery to Syracuse. They frustrate teams with their zone defense, and run a deliberate offense. This slows down the game, and minimizes total possessions. Because teams struggle with the zone, this makes up for the fact that the Orange are so terrible offensively. So they hang around and hope to make a few more shots down the stretch and pull out a win.
The magic number to beat Syracuse is 75 points. The Orange were just 1-5 in games where their opponents scored 75 points, with the lone win an overtime game at Georgetown. Now obviously that number is hard to get to as only six teams were able to pull it off against them, but if you do, it’s going to be a win.
As much as MSU has struggled at times against the zone, this group should have the right personnel to be able to break it. They can shoot the ball well, they pass well, and they can go inside to the post. The length of Syracuse might be a problem, but MSU has plenty of size as well.
And I also don’t see Syracuse being able to score enough, even if the zone slows down the MSU offense. This team has done terribly against any teams that play halfway decent defense. They were held to 44 points twice this season by Virginia and Duke.
This game will be an obnoxious watch and there will be times that both the fans and Tom Izzo are pulling their hair out at the shot selection, but in the end this feels like one the Spartans should be able to take.