‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Breakdown Syracuse’s Regular Season Finale Against Clemson
Once again, Syracuse is forced to bounce back from adversity. After a loss to Boston College knocked the Orange further from the NCAA bracket, can Syracuse pick up its first ranked win of the season against 18th ranked Clemson? Our analysts give their insight on the Orange’s final home game.
Key to the Game: Tyus Battle vs. Marcquise Reed
The offense for both of these teams relies heavily on the performance of their star guards, Marcquise Reed for Clemson and Tyus Battle for the Orange. Battle averages about four points more than Reed, but Reed has the advantage over Battle in many other categories including rebounding, assists, and three point shooting. If the Orange wants to get its first win over a ranked opponent this year, Battle has to play his best to outperform Reed in the battle of star guards.
Prediction: Clemson 72-64
Syracuse has been on a demoralizing stretch lately, losing three straight and having its hopes of making the big dance virtually stripped away. That should be no reason for the Orange to lay down and let Clemson take this game. Having the Dome crowd behind it for the last time this year will give the Orange energy, but Clemson’s diverse scoring attack with five players averaging double digits will be too much for the 2-3 zone to handle in the end.
Key to the Game: Space the Floor
I hate to be redundant with these offensively based shooting keys, but let’s be real, that is what SU needs. Yes, last time out the defense let the Orange down, but 15 turnovers from the offense did not help. Both Clemson and Syracuse are middle/bottom of the pack offensive teams in the ACC. But, on defense the Orange and Tigers are second and third respectively. For SU to win this game, the team needs to get some quality spacing and to attacking the rim. I expect the defense to be back into form so it all comes down to whether Syracuse’s offense can build off of a solid performance at BC.
Prediction: Syracuse 71-66
This game is at the Carrier Dome which is important because five of Clemson’s six conference losses have come on the road this season. On the road this season in the ACC, the Tigers are 3-5 on the road, compared to 8-1 at home. I expect the Syracuse crowd to play a role in this must-win game for Syracuse. The game will be a close possession-by-possession struggle with both teams defensive minded squads. But, in the end expect the SU crowd to be the difference.
Key to the Game: Force Turnovers
The Orange’s ability to force Clemson turnovers is vital – the Tigers averaged double digit turnovers during their three game losing streak (Florida State, Duke, Virginia Tech), including 12 giveaways versus FSU. Syracuse’s zone is at its best when it’s active, coaxing opposing teams into throwing ill-advised passes. The Orange has done this at times – Louisville turned it over 11 times in SU’s win – but has also been inconsistent (UNC only gave it away eight times in its win versus ‘Cuse).
Prediction: Clemson 71-65
The Tigers seem to have figured things out, winning two in a row after their longest losing streak of the year (three games). Conversely, Syracuse’s inconsistency reared its head once again in Chestnut Hill, as BC’s 120th-best offense in the country torched the Orange for 85 points. SU needs this game to keep its slim tourney hopes alive – but then again, it needed Wednesday night’s game as well. As a result, Clemson should win its third in a row and lock up a top four seed in the ACC Tournament.
Key to the Game: Battle of the Blue Crab Kids
Fun fact: in Maryland, blue crab season starts in early April and lasts until November. Another fun fact: two Maryland-based juniors will determine the outcome of Saturday’s matchup. Clemson’s Marcquise Reed (Landover, MD) is the Tigers’ go-to guy, averaging 16.2 ppg on 43 percent shooting. His Syracuse counterpart, Frank Howard (Suitland, MD), is averaging 15.1 ppg, while dishing out 5.1 assists per game. Clemson’s balanced offensive attack revolves around Reed’s playmaking ability. If Howard can outduel him, the Orange will prevail.
Prediction: Syracuse 74-70
The loss at Boston College could very well have been the nail in the coffin for this Orange squad. But an upset victory in the Dome could be the confidence booster ‘Cuse needs in order to make a desperation run in the ACC Tournament. The first team to score 70 will take this one. In ten of Clemson’s eleven victories, its opponents have not scored more than 70 points. With the Tigers’ only conference road victories coming against BC, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, I see the Orange closing out its turbulent regular season with a W.
Key to the Game: Marek Dolezaj
It’s been talked about a lot but you really can’t overstate the fact that Syracuse has literally been playing three against five on offense. To only have six points combined outside of the “big three” on Wednesday night was pathetic. There’s simply no way SU beats a top 25 team if it doesn’t get more production from its role players. With all that in mind, I’m looking at Dolezaj to step up. After all, defenses aren’t really guarding the Slovakian forward and he has a chance to be an X-factor each game. He just needs to get back to being aggressive like he was at Miami.
Prediction: Syracuse 78-70
I’ve got a funny feeling about this one. Clemson is a really solid team but the Tigers don’t have the type of team that should give SU fits. They’re in the bottom-half of the ACC in rebounding and have struggled to shoot the three this season (especially when they went against Duke’s zone). Plus, I think defensive-minded teams like Clemson are better matchups for Syracuse in general. SU’s been riding a rollercoaster all year. When it feels like the season is over, the Orange has done enough to claw its way back on to the bubble and Saturday is going to be another example of that.
Key to the Game: Pace of Play
Sometimes this Syracuse team feels like it can’t do anything right. However, two Orange players are first and second nationally in a major stat: minutes played. Guard’s Tyus Battle and Frank Howard have both played more than 38 minutes per game this season. They are worn out and it showed against Boston College. SU cannot afford to try and run the floor all game with Clemson, or they will be beaten by a team whose seven man rotation looks like the best depth in the ACC when compared to Syracuse.
Prediction: Syracuse 70-63
Syracuse should not win this game, but to be fair, the Orange has lost plenty of games it should have won. Clemson is abysmal away from home. Boston College is its best win on the road. There is little rational to picking the ‘Cuse besides how it feels. As much as the Tigers losing in away games in a trend, so is the Orange winning when they shouldn’t. Clemson exceeded expectations this season, but Syracuse matches up well up enough to end its season on a high note.
Key to the Game: Syracuse’s Size Advantage
After the loss to Boston College on Wednesday, Jim Boeheim assessed his big men and declared Bourama Sidibe and Paschal Chukwu unable to jump. Well, no better time for the Orange centers to pick up a little juice in their knees against an undersized Clemson team. Elijah Thomas is typically the tallest player on the court for the Tigers, only standing at 6-foot-9, but because the junior is very active around the paint, the 18th ranked team in the nation doesn’t consistently lose rebounding battles. Three starters, Gabe DeVoe, Marcquise Reed, and Shelton Mitchell, are listed at 6-foot-3, while no SU player who sees the court is under 6-foot-5. Lob passes to Chukwu should be made available, and Oshae Brissett will likely have an immense size advantage against his defender; expect the Canadian to attack the basket with authority.
Prediction: Clemson 64-57
This season, teams have consistently traveled to the Carrier Dome and knocked down open three-pointers in bunches. Clemson should be able to succeed in a similar fashion; Gabe DeVoe is a 43 percent downtown shooter, and Marquise Reed hasn’t been shy shooting the rock since teammate Donte Grantham’s season-ending injury. He had 20 three-point attempts against Virginia Tech. Ultimately, ‘Cuse needs some production from players not named Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett, and until that rare feat occurs, don’t count on the Orange upsetting top ACC opponents playing three vs. five.
Key to the Game: Avoid an Emotional Letdown
The biggest question for Syracuse this weekend: How will the Orange bounce back from Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss to Boston College? After the BC game, the team was downtrodden. Jim Boeheim’s press conference sounded more like a funeral. SU’s season likely ended with the defeat, and the team knows it. Now they’re faced with one of their toughest challenges of the season. Will ‘Cuse be mentally unfazed? Or will the Boston College loss carry over and impact the team’s play? That could be the difference between and upset and a blowout.
Prediction: Clemson 77-67
Despite being undersized, Clemson is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Kenpom ranks SU 5th in total defensive efficiency. Additionally, the Tigers are a top-25 team in total points allowed. That’s bad news for ‘Cuse. Since January, the Orange has only beat two teams ranked inside the top-100 in defensive efficiency. I don’t see Syracuse pulling this one out of the bag.