NCAA Tournament Preview Edition
Texas A&M vs. Syracuse
Thursday, March 16th
8:40 CST (approx.)
Are we really looking at a newsletter previewing a Texas A&M NCAA Tournament basketball
Kind of cool, isn’t it?
OK - Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of this game.
One thing to keep in mind with this match-up is that this is a Syracuse team can be a VERY
good basketball team, one that has the capabilities to beat A&M by 15+ and not even blink.
Their last three games were all wins and came over #1 UConn, #20 Georgetown, and #16
I would also be remiss if I did not point out that this is the same Syracuse bunch that lost by 17 to tournament snub Cincinnati at home and lost at DePaul by 39, less than 2 weeks ago. DePaul is so bad that they finished 12-15 and did not even get an invite to the NIT.
The 2006 version of the Big East was loaded from top to bottom, so much so in-fact that Syracuse faced a ranked opponent 11 of their last 18 games. Over those 18 games, they finished with a 9-9 record but have currently won 4 in a row.
Overall, the Orange have played a much tougher schedule than did the Aggies. They also played in a much better league, the Big East, than did A&M in the Big 12.
Syracuse finished the 2005-2006 season with the strongest strength of schedule in the
country. A&M’s schedule was ranked a reasonable 65th.
Any look at Syracuse’s backcourt must begin with Gerry McNamara, a 6’2” Senior. He is the heart and soul of their team and their only “brand name” player. McNamara averages 35+ minutes per game and averages just over 16 points and 6 assists per night. For Aggie The Aggie
fans he should be known as public enemy number one. This should not be tough as he is one of those scrappy white guys that is easy to dislike.
Joining McNamara in the starting backcourt is 6’4” Freshman Eric Davendorf. Davendorf averages just over 12 points per game and shoots the ball very well at around 45% on the season. A secondary role he has provided is moving defensive pressure away from McNamara. Davendorf shoots the ball well enough that you can not afford to focus squarely on McNamara.
The Aggies feature a guard duo of Acie Law and Dominique Kirk that can hold their own with anyone in the country, including McNamara and Davendorf.
While Acie provides more of a scoring threat and a quick first step allowing for dribbledrive
penetration on the offensive end, Dominique provides a nasty dose of lockdown man-to-man defense on the other end of the floor.
I will be curious to see how Coach Gillispie chooses to match his guys up with the Syracuse
guards. Whichever route he decides to go, I guarantee you that the boys from Syracuse will not have seen the type of fierce in-your-face man-to-man pressure they are going to see from the Aggies.
One other thing to keep an eye on is that both teams can really struggle shooting the ball from the outside. The Aggies do however have a slight edge in both overall field goal and 3 point percentages - .450 vs .439 in total and .358 vs .343 from downtown.
Advantage – Push +/- 0
Syracuse features a frontcourt of three guys all with good to above average size.
Demetris Nichols – 6’8” Junior
Terrence Roberts – 6’9” Junior
Darryl Watkins – 6’11” Junior
Nichols is the team’s second leading scorer and third leading rebounder averaging 13.6 points and 5.7 boards per game. Roberts is the team’s leading rebuonder pulling down an average of 7.6 per game. Roberts also adds 10.6 points per game to round out the 4 guys from Syracuse that average in double figure points (McNamara/Davendorf/Nichols/Roberts).
Watkins appears to be more of a role player (think Pompey or Walker) in averaging 7.1 points and 7.3 boards per game. He will also be the big body camping out in the middle of the lane as the anchor of Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone.
The Aggies frontcourt of Walker, Pompey, and Joseph Jones will have their hands full trying to bang inside with the big bodies from Syracuse. As Jerry (most people know him as The Dude) pointed out to me this morning, the officials could play a key role in how the big guys from both teams fare in this contest. This should be more of a concern for Syracuse as they do not have the depth in the frontcourt that A&M has.
One key for the Aggies, and certainly more so for Pompey, will be to stay as active as possible without getting into foul trouble. We will need for Marlon to crash the boards hard and keep Syracuse second chance opportunities to an absolute minimum.
Walker will need to lock down on Nichols and not let him get above his scoring average of 13.6. Hopefully he will be able to keep Nichols off balance and disrupt him enough to lure him into a couple of cheap fouls early in the contest.
There are two areas where I think the Aggies have a frontcourt advantage over Syracuse.
1.) Joe Jones
2.) Frontcourt Depth
Joseph Jones can be a difference maker on the inside. If Joe can extend his game away from the block and take the 6’11” Darryl Watkins with him it will help draw the inside of the Syracuse zone further away from the rim. If they can establish Joe extended from the block and open up the back-cut lanes and the high-low post game, there is no doubt the Aggies can establish a post presence in this game centered around big Joe.
Frontcourt Depth is a serious issue for Syracuse. The supporting cast off the Orange bench is less than admirable. If the Aggies can somehow get Nichols, Roberts, and Watkins in foul trouble this could be a big advantage for the Aggies.
Advantage – Slight Edge for the Aggies (+1)
Neither team has extraordinary depth off the bench nor should either bench be considered a major asset at this point. That being said when you look at the first few guys off the bench for either team I think you will definitely notice a difference.
Syracuse has three reserves that log double digit minutes each game out, two guards and a
forward. Josh Wright and Louie McCroskey (both guards) average around 13 minutes each and average 4.1 and 3.8 points respectively. The third contributor is Matt Gorman, a senior forward that averages around 10 minutes per contest and 2.7 points.
In aggregate the top three reserves off of the Syracuse bench average around 10.6 points per game. The Syracuse bench in total averages 12.9 points per contest.
The Aggies have two major contributors coming off of their bench in Josh Carter and Antanas Kavaliauskas. Carter plays 20.3 minutes and AK 16.1 as both players have gotten much better and matured greatly as the season has progressed.
Carter has provided much needed scoring presence on the outside while AK has provided a
secondary force on the inside to compliment Joe Jones. Kavaliauskas can also use his outside shooting touch to help extend the block and widen the Syracuse zone.
Both Carter and AK have seen their minutes increase substantially as the big 12 season wore on. I would look for these guys to play a major role in the outcome of Thursday’s game.
So tell me this, who would you rather have coming off of your bench, Wright, McCroskey,
and Gorman and the Orange’s 12.9 points or Josh Carter, Antanas Kavaliauskas and the
Aggies 21.3 points per game?
Advantage – Moderate Edge for the Aggies (+2)
This one is a no brainer.
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is a coaching legend and a hall of famer (elected in 2005). He has an overall record of 726-252. Coach Boeheim has 1 national championship (over Kansas in 2004) and has been a runner-up twice (to Indiana 1987 and to Kentucky 1996).
In 30 seasons at Syracuse he has led his team to the big dance 25 times (including this year) with an overall record of 40-23. 11 of those 25 visits have seen his teams advance to the sweet sixteen or beyond.
Billy Gillispie of Texas A&M is one of the hottest young coaches in the country and has done an amazing job of transforming the face of Aggie basketball.
Coach Gillispie has a career record of 72-50, but is 66-24 in his last three seasons.
He led the UTEP Minors to the 2004 NCAA tournament as a 13 seed where they lost to Maryland in the first round.
Advantage – Major Edge for the Orange (+3)
Syracuse comes into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country making an improbable run through the Big East tournament capturing the 2005 tournament championship. This run however seems to have erased all memory of the 39 point loss at
DePaul not even two weeks ago.
The Texas Aggie’s late season momentum seems to be overlooked at this point. Most people fail to mention that Old Army won 8 out of 9 down the stretch, including 8 in a row before falling to Texas in Dallas at the Big 12 tournament last weekend. In contrast, the loss to Texas seems to have erased all memory of their own improbable run in winning 8 straight.
Both teams will have to travel about equal distance to Jacksonville with neither having any
complex issues in arriving.
Both teams sold their allotment of tickets from the NCAA. Who will have an edge in the scalpers market? My guess is that it will be a push.
A&M will draw nicely because of the newness and excitement of an invite to the dance that has been nearly 20 years in the waiting.
Syracuse will draw nicely because of the prestige of their program.
Much along the same lines as the coaching breakdown, Syracuse will have a leg up in the “been there, done that” category. This group of Syracuse seniors will be making their 4th straight trip to the tournament.
Advantage – Minor Edge for the Orange (+1)
There you have it, hopefully now you feel caught up to speed. This should be one of the best first round games of the 2006 NCAA Tournament and I hope it lives up to the hype.
The Aggie Hoops Report’s Game Outcome Prediction -
Syracuse Orange – 62
Texas A&M Aggies - 61