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Syracuse Orange vs. San Diego State Aztecs Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

Syracuse Orange vs. San Diego State Aztecs Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

Syracuse Orange vs. San Diego State Aztecs Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

After being on the bubble once again, the Syracuse Orange found its way into the NCAA Tournament.

The Orange will square off against a tough San Diego State team on Friday night. Syracuse comes into the Tournament with a record of 16-9, 9-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange are coming off a good display in the ACC Tournament after losing 72-69 to Virginia on a last-second shot.

The 11th-seeded Orange will now try and take down 6-seed San Diego State. The Aztecs come into March Madness 23-4 overall, 14-3 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs won the Mountain West Tournament with a 68-57 victory over Utah State, who got an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

These two teams have played twice previously. Syracuse defeated San Diego State in the 2007 NIT and in the most recent encounter in 2012.

Midwest Region: No. 11 Syracuse (16-9) vs. No. 6 San Diego State (23-4)

Time: Friday, March 19 at 9:40 p.m. ET

Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)


Spread: San Diego State -3

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Keys for Syracuse

Syracuse is always known for its 2-3 zone defense. The Orange will undoubtedly need to have their best performance of the season against the Aztecs on Friday. Unlike in previous seasons, Syracuse's defense ranked in the bottom five of the ACC in terms of points allowed (70.7). However, opponents are only shooting 41.5 percent against the Orange this season.

Syracuse ranks much better offensively, as the Orange are averaging 75.8 points per game, which is third in the ACC. However, but Syracuse ranks eighth in the ACC in field goal percentage and 10th in 3-point shooting. Buddy Boeheim has been hot lately — he's averaging 25.3 points per game on 51.5 percent shooting from the field, 44.2 percent from beyond the arc, and 92.3 percent from the free-throw line this month.

Keys for San Diego State

The strength of the Aztecs is on the defensive side of the floor. San Diego State allows 60.3 points per game, which ranks No. 8 in the country. Opponents are converting 38.7 percent of their shots, the seventh-best mark in the nation.

San Diego State also leads the Mountain West in 3-point shooting at 37.5 percent. The player to watch for beyond the arc is Jordan Schakel, who shoots 46.7 percent from long range. That's the third-highest mark in the country. Schakel has connected on at least three treys in four of the last five games.

Final Analysis

On paper, San Diego State should win easily because of its 3-point shooting. But Syracuse, just like every March, is starting to play its best basketball of the season.

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If the Orange can get off to an early start with Buddy Boeheim leading the charge, it will make things tough on San Diego State. The Aztecs are an excellent defensive team but want to avoid getting into a shootout with a team that has plenty of firepower.

It should be a great game, but it could come down to free throws and 3-point shooting late in the game.

Prediction: Syracuse 73, San Diego State 70

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.