2014 NCAA Tournament, Round 2
14-seed Western Michigan Broncos vs. 3-seed Syracuse Orange
GAME TIME: 2:45 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (check local listings for channel number)
STREAM: March Madness Live App, NCAA.com, CBSSports.com
ODDS: Syracuse (-13), Over/Under 128
For the first time in a decade the Western Michigan Broncos are dancing. After stomping out the Toledo Rockets for the second time this season, this time in the 2014 MAC Championship, WMU earned the MAC's automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Tournament and a ticket to March Madness. The Broncos (23-9. 14-4 MAC), a 14 seed in the South region of the bracket, begin their quest towards Cinderella-immortalization today when they face a somewhat familiar foe in the 3-seeded Syracuse Orange (27-5, 14-4 ACC).
Though these two teams have met only twice before and not since 1988 (WMU lost both; 93-71 and 94-71) WMU is familiar with the Orange, in a sense. Syracuse legendary coach Jim Boeheim is famous for running a hellish 2-3 zone defensive scheme. The exact same scheme WMU has faced twice a year for the past few years, sometimes three times, in their own conference. Eastern Michigan third-year head coach Rb Murphy runs the exact same Boeheim 2-3 zone with his Eagles. An eight-year assistant under Boeheim before taking the EMU head coaching position Murphy learned the black magic that is Syracuse's 2-3 zone and may have perfected it better than his master.
Murphy's Eagles were the top defensive squad in the nation this season in several categories, including field-goal-efficiency. Though WMU has lost four out of its seven match ups with EMU since Murphy, Steve Hawkins' Broncos have had some recent success and know what it takes to bust the zone. Oh, and I forgot to mention that another MAC team has been running Boeheim's zone for much longer. Since 2007, up through this season, now former Bowling Green head coach Louis Orr has ran at least some variation of the 2-3 zone, which he also learned while working as an assistant for Boeheim in the late 1990s. The point is: while many teams have little to know experience against a team that runs this type of zone for nearly 40 minutes, WMU is steeped in said experience.
When the clock starts rolling Thursday afternoon at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York at 2:45 PM on CBS (also available to stream, online, free of charge via CBSSports.com, NCAA.com or the March Madness Live apps for Android or iPhone) WMU won't be freaking out over the pressure for the Syracuse zone. It's nothing new for these MAC Champs.
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So what should we expect from this game? Well we already put together a full preview of it here for you but the gist of it is this. Expect a low-scoring affair, probably in the 50s or low 60s (each team, not combined, silly) that will likely go down to the final minutes. 'Cuse has been awful down the stretch, losing five of seven after starting the season 25-0. The offense has been ice cold, and I don't expect to see that take a dramatic change in this game. WMU's defense is vastly underrated. The Broncos are loaded with athletic wings, and a dominant low-post guy in senior center Shayne Whittington, (see how they dismantled Toledo, the best offense in the MAC and one of the better offensive teams in the nation, twice this season) and can hold their own against elite level scoring, which Syracuse hasn't had for some time now.
David Brown has been red-hot for the Broncos and if he can keep up that pace (22.5 ppg over the past eight, 19.5 for the year) and get off to an early start WMU has the skill and the pieces to keep this game interesting. That being said 'Cuse is still loaded. C.J. Fair, though struggling as of late, is an absolute monster. Freshman Tyler Ennis is already a household name and is not to be take lightly. WMU will have its hands full and barring an absolutely horrendous day offensively from the Orange, will lose a close one in the final minutes by an upper single-digit margin.
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