March Madness First Four Preview
Syracuse vs. Arizona State
Arizona State defeated four eventual NCAA Tournament teams en route to a school-record 12-0 start, but Pac-12 play proved to be a different animal. The Sun Devils hope to resume their dominant play in non-conference action when they meet fellow Midwest Region No. 11 seed Syracuse in a First Four matchup Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.
The last team in the country to suffer its first loss, Arizona State defeated two eventual No. 1 seeds in the Big Dance – Kansas and Xavier – as well as NCAA Tournament teams San Diego State and Kansas State. The Sun Devils dropped their first game at Arizona on Dec. 30 and were unable to recapture their earlier success, never winning more than three in a row before finishing with an 8-10 conference record and losses in five of their last six. The Orange, who were tabbed by NCAA Tournament committee chair Bruce Rasmussen as the last at-large team into the field, endured a similar path with an 8-10 mark in the ACC after rolling to an 11-2 record during the non-league portion of their schedule. Despite finishing in a tie for 10th in its conference, Syracuse proved itself in the eyes of the committee with a top-20 strength of schedule (14th entering Sunday) and four wins against top-50 RPI teams.
TV: 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV
ABOUT SYRACUSE (20-13): The success of the Orange depends greatly on the success of Tyus Battle (19.8 points), Frank Howard (15.0) and Oshae Brissett (14.7), who rank first, second and sixth in the country in minutes per game and account for 73.3 percent of the team’s scoring. Battle has reached double figures in all but one game this season but has failed to shoot 40 percent from the floor in seven of the last eight contests, including a 14-for-50 showing over the last three games. Howard is also slumping of late, failing to shoot over 30 percent from the field in four of his last five outings – including a 10-for-38 stretch beyond the arc over that span.
ABOUT ARIZONA STATE (20-11): The Sun Devils averaged 91.8 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 42.4 beyond the arc during their season-opening winning streak before cooling off the tune of 78.3, 43.7 and 32.9, respectively, over the last 19 contests. Part of the falloff can be attributed to the decline of leading scorer Tra Holder (18.4 points), who averaged 21.4 points during their undefeated start – including a career-high 40 points against Xavier and 29 against Kansas – and only 16.6 the rest of the way. Fellow senior guards Shannon Evans II (16.6) knocked down a conference-high 91 3-pointers, while Kodi Justice (12.6) went over 1,000 career points last weekend and has buried multiple triples in six of his last seven outings.
1. The winner will meet No. 6 seed TCU in the first round in Detroit.
2. Battle is only the fifth player in school history to reach 1,000 career points by the end of his sophomore year, and his 38.9 minutes per game is on pace to break Billy Owens’ program record of 38.0.
3. In seven games against NCAA Tournament teams, Holder averaged 25.3 points.