College basketball: Syracuse to play Arizona State in First Four round of NCAA Tournament

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Syracuse University men’s basketball received good news on Selection Sunday when the NCAA Tournament Committee included its name in the field of 68 squads.

Syracuse will play Arizona State in a First Four game at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. The winner of that game enters the Midwest Region as the No. 11 seed and will face No. 6 TCU — led by former Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon — on Friday in Detroit.

The top four seeds in the Midwest Region are Kansas (1), Duke (2), Michigan State (3) and Auburn (4). The No. 1 overall seed in the tournament is Virginia, which won the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on Saturday against North Carolina.

The Orange was considered a longshot to “go dancing” after a 20-13 season. In fact, the committee announced that Syracuse was its last team in, finishing ahead of conference rivals Louisville and Notre Dame that were each left out of the field.

“I think the room was the most excited I’ve ever seen our players in all the years we’ve been in there,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “Most years you think you’re in or you are in. But this year when you’re on the edge like this, it’s one of those things where everybody jumped.”

“I was so excited,” said Syracuse’s leading scorer Tyus Battle. “Going in I wasn’t really sure. It could have gone either way.”

To boil down this year’s bubble watch, the lucky teams were Arizona State, Oklahoma, St. Bonaventure, Syracuse, Texas and UCLA. The teams left on the outside looking in were Baylor, Louisville, Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame, Oklahoma St., Saint Mary’s and USC.

Davidson burst somebody’s bubble after beating Rhode Island, 58-57, in the Atlantic-10 Conference title game. It turns out that team was Notre Dame, which was announced as the first team out of the field. The Fighting Irish fell in the standings without preseason All-American Bonzie Colson for much of the season, but played inspired ball down the stretch — which included winning two games in the ACC tournament.

“I thought we were going to be close when Davidson won today,” Boeheim said. “I thought that might be us.”

The committee sided with Syracuse this season, unlike last year, in large part because of the team’s best wins away from the Carrier Dome — quality road wins at Miami and Louisville.

“We had roughly the same profile (as Louisville) so that win made the difference really,” Boeheim said.

Syracuse’s non-conference RPI was 14th in the country, and its schedule in the early-goings included wins over Buffalo, Iona and Texas Southern — all conference champions. Other favorable games in the non-conference schedule for Syracuse were losses to Kansas, one of the top overall seeds in the tournament, and St. Bonaventure, which also drew a play-in game against UCLA.

The NCAA tweaked its criteria for selecting teams by adding a quadrant system in order to rank wins and losses, boosting the significance of wins away from home. Syracuse’s four Quadrant 1 wins were against Clemson, at Miami, Buffalo and at Louisville.

“Buffalo really obviously helped us there,” Boeheim said. “The way they played, they’re a really good team. When you beat a team that’s in the top 30 in RPI, if the name was different everybody would be excited. But because it’s Buffalo, they don’t. But you still have to beat that team.”

It was Syracuse’s win against Clemson, then ranked 18th in the country, in the regular-season finale that likely made possible the favorable decision rendered by the committee. The Orange was 8-10 in the ACC. After beating Wake Forest in the ACC’s first round of the tournament, the Orange was let down by a bad draw. Syracuse was eliminated soundly by the defending national champion North Carolina after the Tar Heels fell into the No. 6 seed in the tournament with two late-season losses and as a result of tiebreakers.

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