The hype surrounding ASU men’s basketball entering the NCAA Tournament is well documented.
The Sun Devils' upcoming opponent, the Syracuse Orange, was in a similar situation after the selection show.
1) What sets Syracuse apart from other at-large teams?
Tomer Langer: This might not be the most glamorous factor, but I'd say Syracuse's lack of depth. SU's bench plays just 16.4 percent of its minutes, the worst mark in the country per Kenpom.com, and that bench has been even more limited recently. The Orange started the year with only nine scholarship players (they then awarded a 10th scholarship to a walk-on). Graduate transfer guard Geno Thorpe unexpectedly left the team in late November. Down to eight. Freshman backup point guard Howard Washington tore his ACL in late January. Down to seven.
SU's backup center Bourama Sidibe is dealing with knee tendinitis, which has held him out of a few games and limited him in others, while forward Matt Moyer sprained his ankle in late January and has been hobbled by it ever since.
Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett rank first, second and sixth, respectively, in minutes player per game in the country. There's a hope for SU that the week-off — it's longest break in nearly two months — will help Moyer and Sidibe recover, but that's an unknown for now. Either way, you won't see many fancy lineup combinations from the Orange.
2) How does the Orange match up against ASU's handful of high-scoring guards?
Langer: The Orange has excelled on defense this season, using its trademark 2-3 zone to hold opponents to a field goal percentage of 39.6, the eighth-best clip in the country. Syracuse has the benefit of playing Tyus Battle and Frank Howard — 6-foot-6-inches and 6-foot-5-inches, respectively — at the top of the zone, giving them significantly more length than you'd normally get from a pair of guards.
The Orange did have a problem earlier this year with being unable to stop one guy from getting hot. From the start of the season through Jan 16, three different players — Maryland's Kevin Huerter, Kansas' Devonte Graham and Pittsburgh's Parker Stewart — hit seven 3-pointers against the team. Those guards pointed to a blind spot at the top of the key that helped them get hot. Since then, SU has done a better job of finding guys before they explode recently, but that blind spot is always something worth monitoring.
3) Syracuse struggled all season against ranked teams. ASU didn't finish in the AP Top 25, but for the majority of the season, the Sun Devils were ranked. How do you expect Syracuse to handle what was formerly the No. 3 team in the nation?
Langer: While it's true Syracuse struggled against better teams all year, they were never blown out of any games, and three ranked teams they lost to — Virginia, Duke and North Carolina — are three of the top eight teams, per NCAA Tournament seeding, in the country.
Arizona State doesn't pose the same threat as any of those other teams, and the Orange showed the ability to hang with other teams that were either ranked or close to it (Louisville, Miami, Clemson). Syracuse has played teams fairly close all year, whether it's tying the game up against UNC with two minutes to go back in late February or struggling to pull away from a Pittsburgh team that went winless in the ACC.
SU doesn't run teams out of the gym, but it doesn't roll over too. So, expect that trend to continue and for the game to be close throughout on Wednesday.
4) ASU is known for its three senior guards leading the charge. Syracuse doesn't have a single senior in its starting lineup, so who leads that team and how does that translate to the court?
Langer: Howard and Battle are the leaders of this team and the only two players who have gotten really serious playing time before. Battle, a sophomore, was a key cog of last year's teams while Howard, a junior, saw sporadic minutes over his first two seasons before locking into his leading role this year.
Howard is the only player on the team who was part of Syracuse's 2016 team that made a shocking run to the Final Four, but he was also in the group that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last year and was the No. 1 seed in the NCAA. You'll see Howard and Battle be the ones directing traffic and being the most vocal on the court against ASU.
It doesn't always lead to success — Syracuse has a bad habit of getting into its sets slowly and playing isolation-heavy basketball — but those two players are Syracuse's heart.
5) Who do you think wins and why?
Langer: Give me Syracuse in a close one. None of the players have much experience playing in NCAA Tournament games, and I think nerves will be in full affect early. That usually favors the defensive team. Also, ASU has really struggled against the 2-3 zone this year, and there might not be a better zone than Syracuse's.
The Orange normally stymies teams who are seeing its zone for the first time, let alone a team that's struggled against other iterations of it all year. If SU stalls on offense, ASU should be able to get some transition points. In the end, though, give me the stronger defense to win out.