(10) Syracuse Orange vs (15) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
You probably noticed the garbage bins in your office overflowing on Friday afternoon. You can blame the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (24-9, 23-5 C-USA), who pulled off one of the biggest March Madness upsets ever when they knocked off Michigan State, prompting hordes of disgruntled bracketeers to crinkle, crumple, and can their picks. This afternoon, the Blue Raiders will try to keep their Cinderella story going when they face the Syracuse Orange (19-13, 9-9 ACC) at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
The Blue Raiders raced out to a quick 14-2 lead against the Spartans and never trailed, responding every time MSU made a run. Reggie Upshaw led the team with 21 points, but it was a group effort that led to the win; all five starters finished in double-figures, including Giddy Potts (19 points), the leading three-point shooter in the nation (50.3-percent).
Potts went 3 of 5 from deep, while the Raiders, as a whole, were a scorching 11 of 19.
Not bad for a team that barely cracks 60-percent from the charity stripe.
They’ll need to stay hot from the land beyond in order to get by Syracuse. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone caused problems for almost everyone the Orange faced, especially on three-point shots. Syracuse limited opponents to just 30.4-percent from three, 12th in the nation.
The defense was in fine form during their 70-51 win over Dayton in round one, holding the Flyers to 32-percent from the field and 6 0f 22 from three. The Orange didn’t shoot it much better, hitting on 39-percent from the floor, but a massive rebounding advantage (48-28) more than made up for their icy shooting.
Junior forward Tyler Roberson almost out-rebounded Dayton on his own, hauling in 18 boards, including eight at the offensive end.
Leading scorer Michael Gbinije (17.8 PPG) had a game to forget, going 3 of 11 from the floor for ten points, but freshman Malachi Richardson picked up the slack, scoring 21.
Upshaw is a solid player and Potts can drill it from deep, but the majority of the Blue Raiders played over their heads in the first round. Take Syracuse to win. But when it comes to the spread, Middle Tennessee’s ability to hit the deep ball (39.9-percent on the year as a team, 18th in the country) should keep it close.
Pick: Syracuse (straight-up); Middle Tennessee (ATS).
(Photo credit: Chad Cooper (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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