Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 3/14/12

There are 32 games on Thursday and Friday, one of the most exciting 48-hour segments on the sports calendar.

We won’t be able to get individual previews up for every game, but we’ll cherry pick some of the more compelling matchups during the tournament’s “second” round.

In this post, we preview the East Region’s 1-16 matchup between Jim Boeheim’s Fab Melo-less Syracuse Orange and 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville.

Syracuse v UNC-Asheville Game Info
  • Seeds & Region: #1 Syracuse #16 UNC-Asheville in East Region
  • Syracuse-Asheville Date: Thursday 3/15
  • Syracuse-Asheville Tip Time: 3:05 ET
  • Syracuse-Asheville Location: Pittsburgh
  • Syracuse-Asheville TV: truTV
  • Syracuse-Asheville Announcers: Kevin Harlan and Len Elmore
  • Syracuse-Asheville Point Spread: Syracuse -17
  • Tickets: Syracuse v UNC-Asheville Tickets
  • Tickets: All Omaha Sessions
  • Tickets: East Regional Tickets in Boston
Syracuse v UNC-Asheville Analysis and Prediction

One day a 16 seed is bound to beat a one seed, but it won’t be here.

Predicted Winner: Syracuse

Photo via Phil5329 at en.wikipedia from Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: As you can see, Andy didn’t go into too much depth with his Syracuse-Asheville preview. So as a bonus, here is what he said about Fab Melo’s absence and its impact on the ‘Cuse. See complete article here.

The best way to assess what Syracuse might look like without Melo is to examine the three games the Orange were forced to play without him earlier this year.

They finished 2-1 during that three-game stretch, beating Cincinnati and West Virginia but losing to Notre Dame.  In those games, Syracuse posted offensive rebounding percentages 21.6, 34.2, and 18.5 compared to an average of 33.5 in conference play.  On defense, two of the three opponents shot over their Big East average for effective field goal percentage defense, and they surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to Cincinnati and 19 to West Virginia, which was good for a 54.3 offensive rebounding percentage.

For a team lauded for their depth, Melo is really the one guy for which they don’t have a suitable replacement.

He ranks in the Top 10 in block percentage at 12.9 and also boasts an impressive offensive rebounding percentage.  So while his 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds may not jump off the page, his impact on the game was far greater.  Melo’s presence deterred opponents from attacking the rim, and he was the team’s most effective offensive rebounder by a fairly wide margin, which is a big deal for a team that doesn’t grab many offensive boards in the first place.

Throw in the fact that Syracuse was routinely unable to prevent offensive rebounds even with Melo in the lineup, and you would appear to have a one seed headed for an early exit.

I don’t think anyone assumes this will result in a 16 seed beating a one for the first time, but many are pointing to a potential second round matchup with Kansas State as a possible stumbling block.  To be fair, some were calling for that even before the news about Melo.

Syracuse Orange Team Capsule
  • Conference: Big East
  • Record: 31-2 (17-1 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 9-1
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 12-2
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Cincinnati, Connecticut (3), Florida, Georgetown, Louisville (2), Marquette, North Carolina State, South Florida, West Virginia
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Cincinnati, Notre Dame
  • Player to Watch: Dion Waiter (6’4” G, So.) – 12.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg

Syracuse Bottoms Line:

The Orange are among the deeper teams in the country with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.

Kris Joseph scores 13.8 points per game to lead seven players who average at least 6.6 points.  Sixth man Dion Waiters is instant offense off the bench, and he also boasts one of the top steal percentages in the country.  Scoop Jardine gives the Orange a veteran at the point, and he has posted a fantastic assist rate while also hitting nearly 55 percent of his two-pointers.

The team has lost just once with big man Fab Melo in the lineup, which says a lot about how much he has improved since a disappointing freshman campaign.  Melo has a high block rate and does a nice job on the offensive boards.  (But, of course, Melo is out…) Fellow soph C.J. Fair has also played well of late and gives Syracuse yet another talented athlete in the frontcourt.

Overall, the Orange are in the Top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  They do a great job of taking care of the ball and have a high offensive rebounding percentage.  For as good as they are on the offensive glass, Syracuse as just as bad on the defensive end.  They rank 341st in defensive rebounding percentage, and they allow opponents to rebounding nearly 39 percent of their misses.  Other than that, the Orange are fantastic in all facets on the defensive end.

UNC-Asheville Bulldogs Team Capsule
  • Conference: Big South
  • Record: 24-9 (16-2 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 8-2
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 0-4
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: None
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Connecticut, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Ohio
  • Player to Watch: Matt Dickey (6’1″ G, Sr.) – 16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1 3P%

UNC-Asheville Bottoms Line:

The Bulldogs dominated the Big South in the regular season and won all three conference tournament games by at least 16 points. UNC-Asheville will be dancing for the second straight year, and they won one of the First Four games last season before falling to Pitt.

Five Bulldogs average at least 11.3 points, led by Matt Dickey, who is also second on the team in assists. Thanks to a superb 63.8 free throw rate, his overall efficiency numbers are strong, and he shoots over 86 percent from the stripe. J.P. Primm leads the team in assists, while Chris Stephenson and Jeremy Atkinson pace the Bulldogs on the glass.

As a team, UNC-Asheville ranks third in the nation in free throw rate with an amazing 48.5 mark, which is critical for a team that is sixth in the country in free throw shooting at 77.2 percent. They play an uptempo game, which to some extent helps to offset the fact that they rank last in the country in effective height on KenPom with just two players over 6-foot-5, neither of which plays a significant role.

**********

Related: Jump to our Midwest Region Bracket Breakdown

See our other individual game previews:

  • South Region: #5 Wichita State v #12 VCU
  • South Region: #4 Indiana v #13 New Mexico State
  • South Region: #7 Notre Dame v #10 Xavier
  • South Region: #8 Iowa State v #9 Connecticut
  • South Region: #6 UNLV v #11 Colorado
  • West Region: #5 New Mexico v #12 Long Beach State
  • West Region: #8 Memphis v #9 Saint Louis
  • West Region: #7 Florida v #10 Virginia
  • West Region: #6 Murray State v #11 Colorado State
  • West Region: #4 Louisville v #13 Davidson
  • East Region: #4 Wisconsin v #13 Montana
  • East Region: #5 Vanderbilt v #12 Harvard
  • East Region: #6 Cincinnati v #11 Texas
  • East Region: #7 Gonzaga v #10 West Virginia
  • Midwest Region: #5 Temple v #12 Cal/USF
  • Midwest Region: #7 St. Mary’s v #10 Purdue
  • Midwest Region: #4 Michigan v #13 Ohio
  • Midwest Region: #8 Creighton v #9 Alabama
  • Midwest Region: #6 San Diego State v #11 NC State
  • Midwest Region: #3 Georgetown v #14 Belmont
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