‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Look At Syracuse’s Matchup with North Carolina
Syracuse takes on UNC in the Dome with the Orange’s tournament hopes in the balance. What does SU need to do to pull off the upset, and can Syracuse finally get a signature win for their resume? Our analysts give their keys and predictions.
Key to the Game: Limit UNC’s Rebounds
Though the Orange has been pretty successful this year when it comes to winning the battle on the glass, UNC is a whole different monster when it comes to rebounding. The Tar Heels average 43.3 RPG, placing them at the top of Division I. Syracuse does have a size advantage down low, but UNC’s tenacity, led by rebounding monster Luke Maye, will give the Orange major problems when it comes to battling for boards. If Syracuse wants to unseat the defending national champs, it will have to fight for every single missed shot.
Prediction: Syracuse 77-74
Riding the momentum of a huge road win in Miami over the weekend after all postseason hopes seemed to be dashed gives the Orange a huge shot of momentum coming into this one. Last year, Syracuse fans were treated to three tremendous upsets in the Carrier Dome, but that has not been the case this year, at least until now. This will be an all-out battle and the Orange will be able to put up a decent amount of points with UNC’s defense averaging over 73 points allowed to opponents this season. Syracuse’s momentum and memories of last year’s upsets will help the Orange pull off this crucial statement win late in the season.
Key to the Game: Marek Dolezaj and Matthew Moyer
This North Carolina team boasts the second-best offense in the ACC, averaging over 80 points per game. I think SU holds the Tar Heels down into the 60’s or 70’s because this lengthy Syracuse defense is athletic and tough to stop. Therefore, what is left in question is the Syracuse offense. The team has been up and down all season in that category, however the Orange executed well on offense in the last four games. A big reason for that has been Matthew Moyer and Marek Dolezaj making shots and plays. Dolezaj had 12 points against the Canes and five assists against NC State while Moyer had eight points against NC State. These numbers do not jump off the page, but their efforts help to draw attention from Tyus, Frank and Oshae. This means the floor is spaced better and there is more room to operate for the Big Three to make plays.
Prediction: Syracuse 74-71
I think the SU defense shows up in a big way and limits this UNC offense by running the shooters off the line. Make the Tar Heels consistently finish amongst the trees, because although they have capable playmakers, that is, plain and simple, a tougher shot. If the Orange gets on a roll, I expect the crowd to play a big role and for the offense to continue to space the floor well. If the Orange scores over 70 points, I expect the team to be right in the game at bare minimum. That is why I am going with Syracuse to get a much needed season-defining win.
Key to the Game: Crash the Boards
North Carolina is the nation’s best rebounding team (43.3 rebounds per game). This strength was on full display in Saturday’s win over Louisville, as UNC outboarded the Cards 44-32. Syracuse has been a better rebounding team of late; it grabbed 37 of them in its win against Miami. But for the first time this season, the Orange will face a team that posts a better rebounding margin than itself. The ‘Cuse needs to be strong inside if it wants to hang with a top-15 team.
Prediction: North Carolina 81-65
UNC is one of the hottest teams in the country, riding a five-game win streak as it heads to the Carrier Dome. The Tar Heels are undefeated in February, and the team has withstood just about every test—it knocked off ranked teams, took down rival Duke and picked up key road victories over NC State and Louisville. North Carolina won its last five games by an average of 27.8 points, and the Heels should keep rolling against a Syracuse team that is 0-4 against ranked opponents this season.
Key to the Game: The Big Three Need to Deliver from Three
There’s an interesting trend one can find when perusing the box scores of North Carolina’s last eight contests. In the Tar Heels’ three straight losses in late January, all three opponents made 12 or more three-pointers. But in its current five game win streak, no opponent hit more than ten. Carolina is too talented of a team to hold under 65 points. It may be asking too much of Syracuse, who is second-to-last in three-point field goal percentage, to magically light it up from deep. But the big three of Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard will have to do just that if the Orange wants to add a statement victory to its NCAA resume.
Prediction: Syracuse 78-75
After some turbulence earlier this season, the defending national champion looks like its rounding into typical contender shape here in February. Joel Berry II and Luke May are two veterans that are difficult to rattle. That being said, UNC is vulnerable on the road, with losses at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. If the Orange big men can hold their ground, and if any combination of Battle, Howard, or Brissett can mount a heroic performance, I think ‘Cuse can pull this one out.
Key to the Game: Watch Luke Maye In The High Post
The most vulnerable play of the SU 2-3 zone is a jumper from the ACC logo or the high post. That’s no secret. Unfortunately for SU, UNC junior Luke Maye is the perfect guy for that exact role. The 6-foot-8 forward has made almost 47 percent of his three-pointers this season. With shooting touch like that, expect Maye to camp out at the high post Wednesday night. If Syracuse doesn’t get out on him, the potential National Player of the Year could have a field day.
Prediction: North Carolina 78-70
UNC is arguably the hottest team in the entire country right now. The Heels reeled off five straight coming into Wednesday’s matchup, including road victories over Louisville and NC State and a huge home win over their arch-rival Duke. Not to mention, UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country and only lost to SU once since the Orange joined the ACC. Syracuse might keep this close in the first half, but Roy Williams and company just have too much talent not to come away with the victory.
Key to the Game: Disrupt Passing Lanes
North Carolina has an assist percentage of almost 60 percent. That shows how fundamental ball movement is to the Tar Heels’ offense. Syracuse needs to be active on defense, something it has been successful at all season. The Orange averages 7.7 steals per game which ranks second in the ACC. If SU can slow UNC’s offense by limiting UNC’s ability to move the ball, SU has a real shot at the upset.
Prediction: North Carolina 72-66
UNC is in the midst of a tear. The Tar Heels have won five in a row, including a win over Duke. Sunday against Louisville, three players scored 19 points or more for the Heels. All five starters scored at least once from deep, and the team shot a combined 44 percent from beyond the arc. Syracuse has some good weapons, but UNC has more. The balance of Carolina will be too much for SU in this one.
Key to the Game: Pray
The word “consistency” isn’t a part of the Syracuse’s vocabulary, whether it be this season, and even in the 2016-17 campaign as well. Quite frankly, what occurs to Jim Boeheim’s teams just doesn’t make any sense: a 30-point demolition by the hands of St. John’s, and then a buzzer-beating win against Duke last season. This time around, losses to measly Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and mediocre NC State, countered by road victories at Louisville and Miami. I don’t know what occurs in SU’s locker room before big-time nationally-televised games, but whatever that activity is, the Orange should continue to do it, especially with a well-rounded UNC team coming to town.
Prediction: North Carolina 79-67
The Tar Heels corral the most rebounds in the country, average the second-most points in the conference, and lead the ACC in securing extra possessions (14.0 offensive rebounds per game). Translation: Roy Williams’ team is for real, and is in serious contention to be the first team to win two consecutive national titles since Florida in the mid-2000s. I’m not going to make the daring upset prediction; although, ‘Cuse should be able to hold Carolina to under 80 points for the first time in almost a month. Unfortunately, moral victories don’t always equate to wins in the standings, but if Syracuse plays a respectable game on Wednesday night, the committee’s challenge becomes even more sticky.
Key to the Game: Contain Luke Maye
One of Syracuse’s biggest strengths this season is its ability to snuff out its opponents best forwards offensively and on the glass. This week, SU faces the ACC’s cream of the crop in forward Luke Maye. The junior is fourth in the ACC in scoring (18.4 PPG) and second in rebounding (10.5 RPG). The way to stopping Maye is to not get him competitively engaged. Maye’s shown a tendency to be lulled to sleep at times this year and he becomes a less assertive player. However, against NC State, Maye reportedly overheard a few Wolfpack players saying he was not athletic enough to be effective. Maye dropped 33 points and 17 rebounds in one of the most mesmerizing offensive explosions we’ve seen in the ACC this season. If Syracuse wants to win, the team cannot allow Maye to find his competitive rhythm.
Prediction: 83-69 North Carolina
We’ve seen Syracuse win games where Tyus Battle scores less than 20 points. We’ve seen games where four Syracuse players are in double figures, the team scores 70+ points and ‘Cuse still loses. SU has been too inconsistent for anyone to say with certainty they know what will happen. What is certain, however, is how well North Carolina has performed in their last five games. The Tar Heels have dominated some of the ACC’s stiffest competition, beating Duke, NC State and Louisville by an average of nine points. UNC’s combination of athleticism, inside-outside scoring and tempo will be too much for ‘Cuse to handle, even at the Carrier Dome.