Orange set sights on Wildcats
Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - The Syracuse Orange look to re-group Saturday in defending the East Region's top seed, taking on the No. 8 seed Kansas State in third-round play from the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Syracuse won its tournament opener for the fourth straight year Thursday with a 72-65 victory over 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville, setting a single-season wins record for the program with its 32nd. It wasn't as easy as some might have thought for the No. 2 team in the country, as Asheville controlled much of the first half and led by four at the break. The Bulldogs got a lift from their outside shooting, burying 10-of-27 from beyond the arc, while the Orange made just 5-of-23 three-point attempts. The Orange clawed back with big buckets from junior James Southerland, who led four Syracuse players in double figures with 15 points, 13 of those coming in the second half. UNC-Asheville was down just three with 1:04 remaining but the Orange sealed the win by going 8-for-8 at the foul line. Sophomore Dion Waiters and senior Kris Joseph had 12 points apiece while senior Scoop Jardine netted all 11 of his points in the second half. At 32-2, Syracuse saw its only other defeat way back on Jan. 21 at Notre Dame. The Orange improved their tourney record to 54-34 in this the program's 35th all-time appearance at the Big Dance -- 29 of those trips coming under the tutelage of Naismith Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. This is the third time Syracuse has donned the status of a No. 1 seed in the tournament, having earned that right in two of the last three seasons. The Orange were a three- seed as an at-large team in the 2011 tourney, knocking off Indiana State in the second round before falling to Marquette. Syracuse has a rich history in this event, making four Final Four appearances, the last culminating in the program's lone NCAA championship in 2003.
Kansas State outlasted No. 9 seed Southern Miss Thursday for a 70-64 triumph, winning its tournament opener for a third consecutive year. Junior Rodney McGruder carried the Wildcats during a sluggish first half with 18 of his game-high 30 points, helping the squad to a 30-27 edge at the half. Junior Jordan Henriquez had a big game as well, recording 15 points, a team-best nine rebounds and six blocks. Freshman Angel Rodriguez struggled overall but came up with a handful of key baskets late en route to his 13 points. In the end, the Wildcats' defense made the difference in holding Southern Miss to 36.7 percent shooting from the floor. K-State connected on 50.0 percent of its field goals and had a 32-18 scoring advantage in the paint. KSU moved to 22-10 on the year and upped its all-time tourney ledger to 33-29 with the victory. This is K-State's third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth in the past five seasons under head coach Frank Martin. The Wildcats picked up a five-seed as an at-large member of last year's tournament, beating Utah State in the second round before dropping a 70-65 decision to Wisconsin. In 26 overall appearances in the Big Dance, KSU has made four trips to the Final Four with one unsuccessful showing in the 1951 championship game.
The Orange and Wildcats have tangled on two previous occasions, splitting those matchups. The most recent meeting came in the 1975 NCAA Tournament where Syracuse posted a 95-87 overtime win in the East Region finals, advancing to its first-ever Final Four. Kansas State logged an 88-68 victory at home in Manhattan during the 1968-69 season in the teams' other encounter.
It's no surprise that the Orange represent one of the most balanced and well- rounded teams in the tournament after securing the second overall seed behind Kentucky. Syracuse ranks seventh in the country in scoring margin at plus-14.0, boasting the Big East's second-ranked offense with 74.5 points per game and third-ranked defense (60.5 ppg). Along those same lines, Syracuse shoots a league-high 46.5 percent from the field while holding the opposition to a mere 38.6 shooting percentage -- good for second in the Big East. However, things took a dramatic change for the Orange on the eve of the tournament as the NCAA ruled sophomore Fab Melo ineligible for the remainder of the season due to his academics. Melo took a huge step forward this season, earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year accolades for posting a team- high 5.8 rebounds and ranking second in the conference with 2.9 blocks. Melo added 7.8 ppg and stands third in the conference in field-goal percentage (56.6 percent). Meanwhile, Joseph is at the head of the Orange scoring attack, averaging 13.8 ppg while dropping a team-high 50 three-pointers on 35.0 percent shooting. Waiters, Big East Sixth Man of the Year, is just as valuable in providing 12.6 ppg as a reserve, shooting 48.0 percent from the floor with 1.9 steals per game. The rest of the Orange will have to continue to step up without the services of Melo with experienced scorers junior Brandon Triche (9.3 ppg), sophomore C.J. Fair (8.5 ppg) and Jardine (8.4 ppg) in the fold. Southerland was an excellent example of that against Asheville, stepping way above his season average of 6.8 ppg. Fair also chips in 5.4 rpg for the 'Cuse while Jardine hands out 4.8 assists per contest. Joseph adds 5.0 rebounds to the mix but the 'Cuse stand just 14th in the Big East this year in rebounding margin at minus-1.3 (36.5-35.3).
The Wildcats did well to hold their own in a talent-rich Big 12 Conference this year behind an efficient offense and a well-rounded defense. K-State puts up 71.4 points per game and connects at a decent 44.4 percent from the field, but the defense often gives it the best chance to win. Opponents score just 63.7 ppg and hit at a meager 40.6 percent from the floor against KSU -- and that's saying something in the Big 12. The balance leaves the Wildcats with the league's fourth-best scoring margin at plus-7.7. Another source of strength for the squad is rebounding where KSU holds down the conference's fourth-best margin at plus-4.6 (37.1-32.4). K-State also ranks second in the Big 12 in blocks per game (4.8). McGruder is among the conference's best scorers at 15.9 ppg and tops the roster with 50 three-pointers on 39.1 percent shooting. Senior Jamar Samuels leads the team in rebounding at 6.6 per contest but is the Wildcats' only other double-figure scorer at 10.0 ppg. Sophomore Will Spradling checks in at 9.3 ppg with 2.8 assists per game and 45 threes dropping at a 33.1-percent accuracy. Rodriguez paces the club with 3.2 assists per game and chips in 8.2 ppg. The Wildcats get some depth down the line in the form of Henriquez (7.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Thomas Gipson (7.0 ppg, 4.6 ppg).
03/17 10:39:08 ET