SALT LAKE CITY — Sunday's NCAA Tournament pairing announcement had to have been bittersweet for Utah Jazz players Ekpe Udoh and Royce O'Neale.
The sweet part: Baylor, their alma mater, was given a No. 9 seed and a first-round matchup against No. 8 Syracuse at Vivint Arena.
The bitter part: Udoh and O'Neale will be on a road trip in Atlanta with the Jazz when the Bears play in Utah's arena on Thursday.
Those in attendance can look forward to an 8-9 showdown that traditionally offers some of the best competition of the 32 first-round games. This one pits a Syracuse squad (20-13), which showed it can beat anyone in the country on any given night when it outlasted top-ranked Duke 95-91 in overtime in January, against a Baylor team (19-13) that picked up some solid wins earlier in the season before losing its final four.
The Syracuse-Baylor winner will advance to play No. 1 Gonzaga unless the Zags are upset in their first-round game against the winner of the Fairleigh Dickinson-Prairie View A&M play-in.
The Orange, who can give opponents fits with their 2-3 zone defense, are hoping to have their best player, Tyus Battle, available for the tourney after he missed the ACC Tournament with a back injury. Freshman Buddy Boeheim came on strong in Battle's absence, scoring 20 points against Pittsburgh and 15 in a loss to Duke.
Syracuse was recently in the spotlight, but not for something the Orange would prefer to be highlighted. Videos of big man Frank Howard appearing to trip Duke superstar Zion Williamson went viral last week.
Syracuse lost to Gordon Hayward's Butler team in the Sweet 16 of the 2010 tournament the last time they played in Utah.
Though Baylor is slumping as it enters the NCAAs, the Bears had won four of five in Big 12 play before that, including a win over Iowa State. The team went 10-8 after 6-9 sophomore standout Tristan Clark (14.6 ppg) was lost for the season with a knee injury. Senior Makai Mason leads the Bears with 14.6 points per game and is the team's biggest threat from outside, which could prove helpful against Syracuse's zone. Mason dropped 40 points against TCU in February.
Syracuse: Tyus Battle 17.2 ppg; Oshae Brissett 7.5 rpg; Frank Howard 2.9 apg Baylor: Makai Mason 14.6 ppg; Mark Vital 7.2 rpg; Makai Mason 3.3 apg
Syracuse: Syracuse 95, Duke 91; Syracuse 69, Louisville 49; Syracuse 72, Ohio State 62 Baylor: Baylor 73, Texas Tech 62; Baylor 73, Iowa State 69; Baylor 73, Iowa State 70
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Syracuse: Georgia Tech 73, Syracuse 59; UConn 83, Syracuse 76; N.C. State 73, Syracuse 58 Baylor: Stephen F. Austin 59, Baylor 58; Texas Southern 72, Baylor 69; Texas 84, Baylor 72
Syracuse: Coach Jim Boeheim, who has a 48-28 record in NCAA Tournament games, was recently cleared of any wrongdoing in a fatal accident that happened last month. Baylor: Bears guard Jake Lindsey, son of Jazz general manager and former Baylor star Dennis Lindsey, recently announced his retirement from basketball because of a rare condition called Parsonage-Turner Syndrome.