Both Syracuse and Arizona State were bubble teams that many thought had blown their chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. Now that they are in they want to prove the naysayers wrong.

Jim Boeheim
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim isn’t concerned with criticism that his team shouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament. (Image: Getty)

They get that chance when the two face each other Wednesday in the last play-in game of the NCAA Tournament. The contest began as a pick ’em, but the Sun Devils are now favored by 1.5 points. The over/under is anywhere from 142 to 143.5 points.

The first play-in game will feature North Carolina Central vs. Texas Southern. Both teams got in by winning their conference tournaments. The winner will face No. 1 seed Xavier on Friday. Texas Southern is a 4- to 5-point pick. The over/under is 146.5.

Deserving to Be There?

The Orange were the final team to make it into the tournament. Many thought Notre Dame deserved the bid. The two ACC teams lost in the second round of the conference tournament, but Notre Dame had defeated the Orange in their only meeting of the season. So it was a slight shock when Syracuse was selected over the Fighting Irish.

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said in a Sunday press conference, after receiving the invite, that they deserved to be there.

“Out of all the bubble teams we had just about the strongest non-conference strength of schedule,” Boeheim said. “I think that helped us. As did the road wins. All those things played out. It was obviously very close.”

The Arizona State, who at one point were No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, had an equally as strong non-conference schedule. They defeated both Xavier and Kansas. They struggled the last two months of the regular season, losing six of 11. When they lost in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament many thought they had punched their ticket to the NIT, but managed instead to sneak into the Big Dance.

Friendly Rivalry

Texas Southern Coach Mike Davis has a close relationship with North Carolina Central Coach LeVelle Moton, and the head men at the historically black universities have a mutual respect for one another. Davis told the Houston Chronicle that it will be strange facing off against his good friend.

“I wanted to play another opponent,” Davis said. “I didn’t want to play coach Moton by any means. He and I are really good friends, but in this business you always play friends.”

The Tigers are a streaky team. Davis watched as his squad lost its first 13 games of the season. Playing teams like Gonzaga, Ohio State, and Kansas was by design, Davis told the Chronicle.

“It’s all about playing in the (NCAA) Tournament and one day my goal is to go as deep into this tournament as possible and you can’t do that unless you play teams like Kansas, Ohio State and Syracuse,” he said.

They did win their last seven, including the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. It was the fourth time in five years they captured the title game and punched their ticket to the NCAA’s.

The Eagles, who won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference by beating Hampton on the road, are making their second consecutive appearance. They lost last year in the first round to eventual champion North Carolina.

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