Syracuse started the season with 25 consecutive victories, only to lose five of its final seven games - including its first and only ACC tournament encounter.
The Orange look to put their recent struggles behind them as they head into the NCAA tournament as the third seed in the South Regional, taking on No. 14 Western Michigan on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. Western Michigan, which makes its first NCAA appearance since losing to Vanderbilt in the first round in 2004, avenged an earlier loss to Toledo with a 98-77 drubbing in the MAC title game.
Syracuse brings the ninth-stingiest scoring defense (59.5 points per game) into the tournament but has struggled on offense down the stretch, shooting 40 percent or lower seven times in its past eight contests. Leading scorer C.J. Fair finished with just nine points in a 66-63 loss to North Carolina State in Friday’s ACC quarterfinals. Thursday’s winner advances to face either No. 6 seed Ohio State or No. 11 seed Dayton in the third round Saturday.
TV: 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT WESTERN MICHIGAN (23-9): The Broncos lost five of nine games in December and early January, but are 14-2 since and shot a blistering 67.9 percent from the field in the second half of the MAC title game. Conference player of the year David Brown led the MAC in scoring at 19.4 and won tournament MVP honors after scoring 48 points in the Broncos’ two victories. Shayne Whittington is Western Michigan’s top inside threat, averaging 16.3 points (fourth in the MAC) and 9.1 rebounds (third in the league) while shooting 52.6 percent from the field.
ABOUT SYRACUSE (27-5): Fair finished seventh in the ACC in scoring at 16.7 points and showed the ability to take over games, scoring 50 points in the final two games of the regular season. The Orange looked like a lock to be a No. 1 seed before their late-season swoon, but Jerami Grant’s return from a back injury – he has collected 35 points and 18 rebounds in his past two games – gives Syracuse confidence it can return to its earlier winning ways. Tyler Ennis led the ACC in assists (5.6) and has averaged 18.3 points in his past three games, including 21 against the Wolfpack.
1. Syracuse has won both previous meetings with Western Michigan, the last coming in 1988.
2. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is 52-29 in the NCAA tournament, including 25-5 in openers.
3. Brown’s career-high 32 points in the MAC final gave him 1,007 for his career.