Matthews: How Far Can SU Go In The NCAA Tournament?

HOW FAR CAN SYRACUSE GO IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT?

Jim Boeheim has guided Syracuse deeper into the men’s NCAA Tournament than many observers expected many times.

Don’t expect any miracles this time around.

This SU team lacks depth, shooting, rebounding and confidence. That’s a lot to lack.

Thursday’s first-round game against Baylor is a toss-up.

If SU beats Baylor, they’d face Gonzaga in the second round. End of the road. The Zags are too talented, too deep and too well-coached to the Orange. If they played 10 times, SU might win once.

This has been a difficult SU team to figure out – and sometimes to watch.

SU is only 7 ½ players deep – Bourama Sidibe being the ½.

If Tyus Battle, Elijah Hughes, Oshae Brissett, Frank Howard, Paschal Chukwu, Marek Dolezaj and Buddy Boeheim all played well in the same game, SU could beat a lot of higher-seed teams in this Tournament.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened all season. The team has talented players but they’ve all been inconsistent.

A win over Baylor and a loss to Gonzaga would give SU a 21-14 final record. All things considered, that should be considered a fairly interesting, mildly entertaining and slightly disappointing season.

CAN THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS WIN THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP? WHY NOT?

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA but few league observers seem to be taking them seriously.

I still don’t believe Golden State can be beaten in a best-of-seven series in this season’s playoffs, but if any team can do it, I think Milwaukee is the one.

A few reasons to take these Bucks seriously as a title threat:

Giannis Antetokounmpo will finish first or second for league MVP, and I believe The Greek Freak helps the Bucks in more ways than James Harden helps the Houston Rockets.

Sparkplug point guard Malcolm Brogdon should be ready for the playoffs. He’ll miss six to eight weeks with a foot problem.

Antetokounmpo is far from a one-man gang. The rest of the starting five consists of Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Brogdon. The bench includes Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova, Pat Connaugton, Tony Snell, John Henson, Starling Brown and George Hill. They all can play.

The numbers are impressive, including the NBA’s best record (52-18); 117.6 points per game second only to Golden State (117.96; NBA’s best point differential (+9.3 points per game; Golden State is second at +5.8); third-best field-goal percentage(.477)and first in field-goal defense (.433); +4.6 rebounds per game (behind only Denver’s +4.8); NBA-best 40.1 defensive rebounds per game.

The Bucks are on pace to have the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They’re 27-6 at home this season (and 25-12 on the road). They have a 10-4 record versus the teams with the five next-best records in the league. They’re 35-9 versus the Eastern Conference and 17-9 versus the Western Conference.

Brogdon’s bad foot is a concern, but My major worry regarding the Bucks is a collective lack of playoff success. They were a relatively modest 44-38 last season and haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, when they lost in the conference finals. They’ve lost in the first round 8 of the past 17 seasons, with a 14-32 record.

Milwaukee is a well-balanced, hard-working, confident and deep team. The Bucks are underrated partly because they aren’t on national TV as much as less-talented but more-established teams.

I believe Milwaukee will reach the NBA Finals this season and Golden State had better be in top form if they hope to three-peat.

LOST WEEKEND FOR THE AMERKS...

The Rochester Americans entered the weekend with a chance to take the top spot in the 31-team American Hockey League by sweeping two games at the pace-setting Charlotte Checkers.

It didn’t happen. The Checkers won 4-1 and 3-1 to complete a sweep of this regular-season’s four-game series. Charlotte outscored Rochester 17-6 in the four games.

Rochester still has a sparkling road record at 19-8-3-1 and is 39-20-3-2 overall (83 points). The Amerks dropped behind Syracuse (40-17-4-2; 86 points) in the North Division of the Eastern Conference and will be rooting for Charlotte(41-15-6-1; 89 points) to keep rolling against the visiting Crunch Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

The Amerks have only 12 games remaining in the regular season. They’ll host the Cleveland Monsters Friday, 7:05 p.m., and play at the Toronto Marlies Saturday and Sunday.

Rochester will be among the favorites to win this season’s Calder Cup, but first things first. Winning a playoff series – particularly against Charlotte -- would be a major accomplishment.

Rochester last won the Calder Cup in 1996. That drought is bad enough. But the Amerks last won a playoff series in 2005, when they swept Hamilton 4-0 before losing to Manitoba 4-1.

Rochester in the 13 years since since failed to reach the playoffs 7 times and lost in the first round the six other years (7-20 record in those series).

..AND FOR THE KNIGHTHAWKS

The new-look Rochester Knighthawks, with six new players in the lineup, put up good fights in losses to the Georgia Swarm, 15-14 at home before 5,428 fans Friday night, and 15-13 at the Toronto Rock Saturday night before 12,873 fans.

Top stars for Rochester in the two defeats were Chris Boushy (9 goals and 4 assists) and Jake Withers (won 51 of 65 faceoffs).

It will be interesting to see where Boushy plays next season. Curt Styres will take many of Rochester’s current players with him to Halifax but it would be a good move by the league and a nice gesture by Styres if 21-year-old new hero Boushy somehow winds up on Rochester’s expansion K-Hawks.

The lame-duck K-Hawks are tied with the expansion Philadelphia Wings at 2-10 for the worst record in the 11-team National Lacrosse League. Rochester has six games left this season and will host the Calgary Roughnecks Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial, and play at the New England Black Wolves Sunday, March 31.

SHORT SHOTS

+++Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane is coming off quite a week. He went on a free-agent signing spree that probably improved his team’s roster at 11 roster spots and he attacked the national critics who described Buffalo as ”the Siberia of the NFL.” Beane probably is the most popular person in western New York. At least for now.

+++I’m warming up to the possibility of Shady McCoy and Frank Gore platooning at running back. Two future Hall of Famers (?) sharing the job?

+++Buffalo’s Josh Allen versus Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick should provide some entertaining football the next two seasons. It looks like Allen will have the stronger supporting cast.

+++Encouraging news for Knighthawks fan who are worried about being a National Lacrosse League expansion team next season: the expansion San Diego Gulls are leading the Western Division with a 7-4 record after a 13-11 home win over Philadelphia Saturday night. Former K-Hawks star Dan Dawson paced the Seals with 5 goals and 2 assists.

+++Four minor-league cities are building new stadiums for the 2020 season -- Wichita, Kansas; Madison, Ala; Fredericksburg, Va. and Kannapolis, N.C. Wichita will replace the New Orleans Babycakes in the Triple-a Pacific Coast League, Madison will replace Mobile, Ala., in the Double-A Southern League, and Fredericksburg will replace Potomac, Md., in the Single-A Carolina League. Kannapolis won’t be moving but will have a new stadium in the Single-A South Atlantic League.

+++Santa Anita in California plans to resume live racing March 29 with new safety and medication rules. Racing was suspended after 22 horses died after breakdowns in training or during races.

+++Scoring averages for some familiar names in the NBA G League: Thomas Bryant averaging 21.0 points in 21 games; grayson Allen 16.4 PPG in 23 games...Bonzie Colson 15.0 PPG in 23 games...Andrew White III 13.1 PPG in 25 games...CJ Fair 13.0 PPG in 27 games...John Gillon 12.9 PPG in 24 games...Tyler Lydon 12.3 PPG in 22 games...Hakim Warrick 11.6 PPG in 36 games...Michael Gbinije 7.0 in 26 games.

++Major League Baseball’s 2019 season-opening two-game series in Tokyo between Seattle and Oakland will be Wednesday and Thursday, 5:35 a.m., ET, on ESPN. The 15-game Opening Day in the good old USA and Canada will be Thursday, March 28.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Monday, March 18

Ivica Zubac 22...Anthony Barr 27...Trey Mancini 27....T. Realmuto 28...Travis Frederick 28...Corey Liuget 29...C. J. Miles 32...Eric Wood 33...Cory Schneider 33...Fernando Rodney 42...Zdeno Chara 42...Brian Griese 44...Rob Johnson 46...Andre Rison 52...Bonnie Blair 55...Guy Carbonneau 59...Gilles Hamel 59...Ingemar Stenmark 63...Guy Lapointe 71. Lily Collins (30), Adam Levine (40), Queen Latifa 49 and Vanessa Williams 56 are invited to the birthday party.

Tuesday, March 19

Dee Ford 28...EJ Manuel 29...Clayton Kershaw 31....Ahmad Bradshaw 35...Evan Bourne 36...Hedo Turkoglu 40...Sheldon Brown 40...David Ross c42...Andre Miller 43...Rick Mirer 49...Tyrone Hill 51...Joe Kapp 80. Bruce Willis 64 and Glenn Close 72 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

March 18

98 years ago (1921), the 8th Grand National steeplechase race was won by Shaun Spadah, the only horse to complete the course without falling...74 years ago (1945), Maurice “Rocket” Richard became the first NHL player to score 50 goals in a season...66 years ago (1953), the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee...38 years ago (1981), the Buffalo Sabres scored nine goals in one period versus Toronto.

March 19

69 years ago (1950), Babe Didrikson-Zaharias won the U.S. Women’s Open by 9 strokes over amateur Betsy Rawls...47 years ago (1972), the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors 162-99...44 years ago (1975), Pennsylvania became the first state to allow girls to compete with boys in high school sports...38 years ago (1981), the Buffalo Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 14-4...28 years ago (1991), the Sacramento Kings set an NBA record of 29 consecutive road losses.

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