The nightcap on the first day of Sweet 16 action features the no. 11 Syracuse Orange facing the no. 2 Houston Cougars in the Midwest Region. Game time is at 9:55 EST on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Cougars are 6-point favorites with the over/under set at 140 points.
Houston are a little fortunate to have survived this far. The Cougars made quick work of Cleveland State in the First Round, only to struggle against Rutgers in the Round of 32. They trailed by 10 points with less than 10 minutes left but benefited from the Scarlet Knights folding under pressure and managing a 63-60 win.
Meanwhile, the Orange are playing their best basketball of the season. They won three of four heading into the NCAA Tournament and played a one-sided game with San Diego State in the First Round. Syracuse then withstood a late rally from no. 3 West Virginia to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time since 2016, doing so as a double-digit seed every time.
Buddy Boeheim, the son of coach Jim Boeheim, has been one of the biggest stars of the tournament. Since the start of the ACC Tournament, he’s averaging 28.3 points per game and is shooting lights out. He’s reached a point where it’s surprising when the ball doesn’t go in the hoop. As long as he keeps playing at the same level, the Orange are a threat to advance.
That being said, it’s more than Boeheim propelling the Orange through the Big Dance. Syracuse has five players who average at least nine points per game. In addition to Boeheim, Joe Girard and Allen Griffin are both threats from beyond the arc. Also, Quincy Guerrier is one of the best rebounders in the ACC, giving the Orange 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He’s also an occasional threat from the perimeter, giving Syracuse a nice inside-outside combination.
With Caleb Mills leaving the program early in the season, Quentin Grimes has stepped up as the premier scorer on Houston. Grimes is averaging 18.1 points per game on the season and is also one of the team’s best rebounders. He scored 22 points and racked up nine rebounds in the win over Rutgers, showcasing his diverse skillset and showcasing how important he is to Houston’s cause.
Of course, the Cougars need more than Grimes to advance past the Sweet 16. Marcus Sasser has been a suitable running mate all season but only scored four points in the win over Rutgers. Meanwhile, there is some concern about point guard DeJon Jarreau, who is battling a hip injury and plays an important role in getting Grimes and Sasser shots. On the bright side, forward Justin Gorham is a beast on the boards, helping make Houston one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country.
As always, Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone is likely to play a role. With Sasser struggling and Jarreau banged up, the Cougars may not have enough shooters to do serious damage against the zone.
Meanwhile, the Orange has a versatile attack, even if Buddy Boeheim cools down a little. Syracuse isn’t a normal no. 11 seed; they close to Houston’s level, which should lead to a close game. Bet on the Orange to beat the 6-point spread and possibly pull off the upset of Houston.
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