Skeptics and critics have spent the past two days questioning if Syracuse can advance without starting center Fab Melo.
Much of that attention has focused on later rounds since no sixteen seed has ever upset a one seed. UNC Ashville isn't a typical sixteen seed and while they are certainly the underdogs in this match up - the Bulldogs aren't afraid of the more athletic Orange team.
UNC Ashville's strengths -
The Bulldogs run a fast paced high scoring offense and their average of 81.2 points per game was good for the fifth highest in the NCAA. They start four seniors and a junior. UNC Ashville has a fairly balanced attack with five players averaging over eleven points per game. They are no strangers to big games either. Ashville played North Carolina, N.C. State and UConn early in the season. Ashville lost all three games but stayed relatively close in all three, only losing to UConn by ten and N.C.State by 9. Guard Chris Stephonson said the team learned a lot from those games and is better prepared to deal with the height of a major conference team.
UNC Ashville's weaknesses -
The Bulldogs have a small lineup. They have five players listed at 6-8 or taller including a seven footer but they play very sparingly. All their starters and key reserves are 6-4 or smaller. UNC Ashville typically scores on the fast break and their outside shooting is decent but not outstanding. On the season, Ashville shot just over 35% from behind the three point line.
Food for thought -
Guard J.P. Primm stayed in touch with UConn guard Jeremy Lamb after the teams played early int he season. Primm says Lamb recently texted him and said that Ashville was the scrappiest team UConn had played all season. The Ashville team is experienced and won a play in game last year. They're very comfortable in the way they play and if Syracuse doesn't take them seriously - Ashville could keep the game close.
Watch out for -
Senior guard Matt Dickey was the Big South Player of the Year and averages 16.5 points. Dickey is only 6-1 but is creative and can score from anywhere on the court. He will likely be playing professional basketball somewhere next year.