By Johnathan Snyder
Western Michigan enters this year’s NCAA Tournament overshadowed by their second round opponent. But that won’t stop the school from Kalamazoo from trying to pull the monumental upset.
The Broncos won the Mid American Conference Tournament with a 21-point pounding of Toledo last Saturday and come to Buffalo, NY for their round-of-64 matchup versus no. 3 Syracuse. The two teams tip at 2:45 inside the First Niagara Center and while the stands will be filled with a bright shade of orange, Steve Hawkins and his Broncos have upset on their mind.
Western has three players scoring in double figures and is led by two MAC first-teamers and seniors David Brown and Shane Whittington. “Juice” Brown is scoring 19.4 points per game while Whittington is scoring 16.3 and pulling down over nine rebounds per contest.
Brown has scored in double figures in every game this season while Whittington scored in single digits just twice and recorded 14 double-doubles this year.
The Broncos avenged an earlier season overtime loss to the Rockets by besting them to earn their spot in the field of 68. They have won 12 of their last 13 games and finished with an overall record of 23-9, and 14-4 in the MAC.
The turning point of the season could have been a 21-point loss to Buffalo back on January 29 when the Bulls dominated from the opening tip to hand the Broncos an embarrassing loss. From the moment on, the team’s only loss came to Toledo.
They almost didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos were held to 17 points in the first half as the Akron Zips had them doubled up at the break. They were down 15 points midway through the second half, but erased that over the next 7:15 with a 18-0 run. The Broncos bested the Zips in overtime, 64-60 and wouldn’t be denied in the championship game.
The Orange present a difficult challenge for any team in the country as they are holding their opponents to 59.5 points per game. The Broncos however, have experience against something that will allow them to be a little more prepared for Thursday’s tough test.
Rob Murphy, former Syracuse assistant coach, now coaches the Eastern Michigan Eagles of the MAC and implies the same defensive strategy as Orange head man Jim Boeheim. The vaunted 2-3 zone is something the Broncos had to face twice this season, improving dramatically between matchups.
In the two teams’ first meeting back on January 14, the Eagles held Western Michigan to a season-low 37 points on 28.6 percent shooting from the floor. On the second try, the Broncos shot the ball better and were much more successful, scoring 75 points in a win, despite taking 19 fewer shots than the Eagles.
This will be the fourth NCAA Tournament appearance for the Broncos. They are 2-3 overall in the tournament with their last appearance coming in 2004 when they lost in the opening round to Vanderbilt. They won a game in each of their other two appearances. In 1998 they defeated Clemson 75-72 before bowing to Stanford, and in 1976, they defeated Virginia Tech and then fell to Marquette.