No team was more of a surprise through the first few months of the season than Syracuse. They were supposed to have somewhat of a down season after losing its star backcourt of Michael Carter Williams (to the NBA) and Brandon Triche to graduation. Swingman James Southerland was among a few other rotation players that were no longer with the team and they seemed headed to somewhat of a rebuilding year. They then proceeded to start off the season by going undefeated through 25 games. Western Michigan is making its first appearance in the dance since 2004 and are 14-2 overall since early January making them one of the hotter teams in the tournament.
Western Michigan struggled before their 14-2 run so they appear to be a team that has figured it out at the right time. They often dominated in MAC conference play and had an easy 99-77 victory in the conference championship game. They are led by the reining conference player of the year in David Brown who averages over 19 points per game and won MVP of the NAC tournament by scoring 48 points in the two games he played. Shayne Whittington is a bruiser on the inside with the occasional ability to play facing the basket. He averaged over 16 points per game to go along with over 9 rebounds. He is a high percentage shooter at nearly 53% and does a lot of the little things that help teams win basketball games. They = first step will be to move the basketball against the famous Syracuse 2/3 zone and find open shooter. After that it will be a simple matter of making the outside shot. The NCAA tournament has always been about guard play and if Western Michigan’s perimeter players can knock down outside shots against the zone they could very well pull off an upset.
There are 3 major reasons why Syracuse has not taken any steps back this season. The first is legendary Coach Jim Boeheim who has seamlessly transitioned his team into the ACC and is one of the greatest coaches of all time. The second would be the all around excellence of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis who has been just as successful as any other freshman in the country and came into Syracuse with much less fanfare. He led the ACC in assists and has proven to be clutch in late game situations. The third major reason is the strong play of C.J Fair throughout the season. He could have declared for the draft and likely been drafted last season. He made a wise decision in staying and has Syracuse poised to make a tourney run. They are on a tailspin lately having lost 5 of its last 7 games to finish the season. Jerami Grant was injured for much of that late season collapse however he is back and provides a much needed scoring punch and rebounding presence
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