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Syracuse Orange vs. TCU Horned Frogs: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview and Prediction

College Football Top 25 Rankings: TCU

After a First Four win over Arizona State, Syracuse will look to keep dancing Friday night in Detroit when the Orange take on TCU. The Horned Frogs (21-11, 9-9 Big 12) make their eighth NCAA tournament appearance — and the first since 1998 — while the Orange (21-13, 8-10 ACC) play their second game in three days after Wednesday’s win in Dayton.

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These two teams only meet for the fifth time, with Syracuse winning all four of the previous games. They last squared off in 2005, an 80-64 home win for the Orange.

There will be much more familiarity at hand, however, between the two coaches. TCU head coach Jamie Dixon spent 13 seasons at Pittsburgh where — in the Big East and then in the ACC — he saw plenty of Syracuse and Jim Boeheim. Dixon is 15-6 all-time against the Orange, including winning the last five.

Fort Worth certainly was biting its collective nails during the opening two weeks of TCU’s Big 12 season. In the Horned Frogs’ first five conference games, two were decided by a point (both were losses) and all five were within five points. Unfortunately for Dixon and TCU, four of the five (Oklahoma twice, Kansas and Texas) were losses, with the only win in that span coming at Baylor.

To their credit, the Frogs closed the season strong, winning four in a row at one point and five of seven, with the only losses in that stretch coming at West Virginia (No. 5 seed in NCAA Tournament) and Texas Tech (No. 3 seed).

Boeheim and the Orange are right back at it after hanging on against Arizona State on Wednesday night. They’ll make the short trip north to Detroit after limiting the Sun Devils to just 56 points, nearly 27 below ASU’s season average. All five starters played at least 34 minutes, with Tyus Battle and Frank Howard going the full 40. Oshae Brissett had 23 points to lead all scorers, while Battle and Howard added 15 and 12, respectively.

Syracuse has struggled from the field this season and that showed Wednesday, as the Orange shot just a shade over 40 percent (including just 7-of-20 from 3-point range).

Midwest Region: No. 11 Syracuse Orange (21-13) vs. No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs (21-11)

Time: Approximately 9:40 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Little Caesars Arena (Detroit)


Keys for Syracuse

Syracuse’s strongest suit is its free-throw shooting, though you wouldn’t have known that from watching on Wednesday. Syracuse was just 13-of-23 (57 percent) from the line, which isn’t a bigger story because the Orange held on with its typical stingy defense.

Five players got to the line against ASU, but only attempted as many as three free throws and only Brissett (6-of-11) made at least half. That will have to change against a very efficient TCU team.

Keys for TCU

As Dixon knows quite well, there are two major components to beating Syracuse: rebounding and 3-point shooting. Many of his Pittsburgh teams excelled in those areas, and his TCU team this season does as well. The Horned Frogs grab 34.5 percent of their misses to rank 21st nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and five Horned Frogs shoot better than 33 percent from 3-point range.

While success in those two facets is usually pretty self-explanatory against most teams, against Syracuse it’s even more paramount. For TCU to stave off the upset, the Horned Frogs will have to shoot well, especially from deep, and be sure to crash the boards when they miss.

Final Analysis

The coaching matchup will be an intriguing one, as both are much more familiar with each other than are the teams themselves. But Dixon has proven that he can go up against Boeheim and win like few others can, and his team stacks up well with the challenge that Syracuse brings to the table.

Prediction: TCU 73, Syracuse 66

— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.

(Top photo courtesy of @Cuse_MBB)