Syracuse vs. Baylor Betting Guide: Which Zone Defense Will Prevail in NCAA Tournament?

Syracuse vs. Baylor Betting Guide: Which Zone Defense Will Prevail in NCAA Tournament? article feature image
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USA Today Sports. Pictured: Syracuse guard Tyus Battle, Baylor forward Tristan Clark

#8 Syracuse vs. #9 Baylor NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Syracuse -1.5
  • Over/Under: 130.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • TV: truTV
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

>> All odds as of Thursday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.


This is one of the most intriguing first-round matchups because of each team’s respective defensive scheme.

There are only eight teams in the entire field that ran a zone defense at least 30% of the time during the regular season. Baylor and Syracuse were two of them — although Syracuse did so with much more regularity and the two zones are drastically different schematically.

Which team is better equipped to handle the other’s zone defense? Let’s take a close look at this matchup to determine which. school will move on for a likely date with North Carolina.

Howard Out for Syracuse

Wednesday night, some disappointing news dropped for Syracuse: Point guard Frank Howard was suspended for violating athletic department policy.

Howard has started almost every game over the last two seasons and averages 8.9 points per game.

The line didn’t immediately move on Wednesday, but Syracuse already has one of the thinnest rotations in the country.

Most Important Matchup in Baylor-Syracuse

Despite the drastic differences between the two zones, shooting will still matter. And the Bears are the far superior 3-point shooting team.

While their season-long 34.0% 3-point shooting doesn’t look that impressive, their percentage during Big 12 does. Baylor shot 37.3% during conference play, which led the league.

Syracuse shot just 33.0% from 3-point range (244th in NCAA). And unlike Baylor, it didn’t improve much as the season progressed. The Orange shot only marginally better during ACC play at 33.8%.

When it comes to perimeter shooting, Baylor has the edge, which is key against any zone. Just look at these teams’ respective zone offenses.

Syracuse scored just 0.832 points per possession in its zone offense, which ranks in the 16th-percentile nationally (per Synergy). It has one of the five-worst zone offenses in the entire tourney field.

Conversely, Baylor has been much more successful in its zone offense. The Bears scored a much higher 0.979 against opposing zones, which ranks inside the top 100 in the country.

Other Factors to Consider

The Bears rebound on the offensive end at an impressive clip. In fact, they are the best offensive rebounding team in the field and second-best nationally.

Baylor should have a field day in that regard against a Cuse zone that has historically been extremely vulnerable to offensive rebounds. That’s no different this season, as Jim Boeheim’s bunch ranks 335th nationally in opponent offensive rebounding percentage. Only Washington and Georgia State (two other zone teams) allow a higher clip.

Expect plenty of second-chance opportunities and easy put-backs when Baylor doesn’t connect from deep.

Baylor closed the season with four consecutive losses, but it’s not like the Orange ended theirs ablaze. They closed out the season with a 2-5 record, and those two wins came against ACC bottom-feeders Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Neither team comes in with much momentum.

In a game that I make a true coin flip, I’ll take the points with the better zone offense and superior rebounding team.

THE PICK: Baylor +2

Action Network Projected Odds

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Syracuse -1
  • Total: 133.5
  • Proj Score: Syracuse 67.5 | Baylor 66.5
  • Win Probability: Syracuse 50.2% | Baylor 49.8%

Editor’s note: The opinions on these games are from the individual writer and are based on his research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

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