Not that you needed me to tell you that Syracuse’s chances to win the national championship took a hit when Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the rest of the tournament. Then, Syracuse went out and almost lost to UNC-Asheville, surviving by 7 points after being in a tight game all afternoon.
Whether you think that was because they were missing Fab Melo, just came out flat, or whatever the reason, it was not a good sign.
Here is the list of #1 seeds who won the opening game by 10 or less since the expansion to 64 teams in 1985:
Twelve teams appear here, most recently Pittsburgh in 2009, and before that, North Carolina in 1997. (#1 seeds have been better recently). Over half of the twelve lost before they reached the Elite 8. None of them won a national championship–you have to go to Maryland in 2002 and Arkansas in 1994, both of whom won by 15 in the opener, to find a champion.
For comparison, among #1 seeds that won the opener by 25 or more, only 21% failed to reach the Elite 8, over half reached the Final Four, and 21% won the title.
So today, Syracuse begins their quest to counter those odds, with Kansas State first and then the winner of Vanderbilt and Wisconsin. That’s not an easy road, and I don’t like their chances. Syracuse’s weakness has been defensive rebounding, and that has been an issue all year long, even with Melo. Without him, Kansas State’s front line has the advantage, and that happens to be the Wildcats’ strength.
Does that mean an upset is imminent? No, Kansas State is an 8 seed because of their inconsistency and propensity to turnovers with a freshman point guard. They can be pressed, and I suspect the Orange will have to do that a lot. However, their chances of falling today or this week in the Sweet 16 are probably much greater than a typical #1 seed, and Vegas recognizes that, as the line is lower than a typical 1/8 matchup.
The Line: Syracuse by 5. The Pick: Kansas State +5.