‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Predict If Syracuse Can Stay Alive Against North Carolina
Syracuse took care of business against Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament, but tonight’s task presents a much larger challenge. Can upset-minded Orange take down the Tar Heels? Our analysts tell you with their keys and predictions.
Key to the Game: Spread the Wealth
In the first round win against Wake Forest, all five Syracuse starters scored in double digits for the first time in ACC play this season. Marek Dolezaj had 20 points and Paschal Chukwu put up 14 points and nine rebounds. Those two guys need to capitalize from the momentum of their big game. If the Orange wants to keep the ball rolling and score another win in the ACC Tournament, it has to move the ball around and not rely on the offense solely running through Frank Howard and Tyus Battle.
Prediction: North Carolina 74-68
In UNC’s win in the Carrier Dome last month, Theo Pinson cut through the Orange with 23 points. Containing him has to be a point of emphasis for Syracuse. Also in that game, Tyus Battle scored 26 and Frank Howard tallied 23, accounting for over half of Syracuse’s scoring. Spreading out the offense should help the Orange put up a fight against the defending national champs, but it won’t be enough.
Key to the Game: Attack the Rim
Everything with the Syracuse offense is predicated on getting to the rim. The Orange needs to attack to draw fouls and collapse the defense. When the SU offense has been at its best, the team has gotten to the line to get some easy points. In the team’s three worst offensive performances of the season against Notre Dame (49 points), Virginia (44 points) and Duke (44 points), Syracuse shot six, nine and six free throws respectively. Meanwhile, when SU scored 73 points last night, it shot 29 free throws.
Prediction: Syracuse 77-74
Look, if Syracuse can recreate the same type of pressure that the Orange forced last game, I think that SU will be in the game. Syracuse owns the 13th best defense in the country and I expect that to keep SU in the game. In the end, the question is can Syracuse make the big plays in the final minutes this time around. I think that answer will be yes in a pro-Orange crowd in Brooklyn.
Key to the Game: Start Fast
Syracuse outscored Wake Forest 20-4 over the first 8:44 in last night’s win to open the tournament. That early double digit advantage proved to be insurmountable, as SU held on for a nine point win. And against North Carolina, the Orange needs to replicate that start. In the teams’ meeting on Feb. 21, UNC led by 12 points just over nine minutes into the game. Despite a furious second half comeback, SU fell short 78-74. If the ‘Cuse wants to hang with the 12th-ranked Tar Heels, it needs to get its offense going early.
Prediction: North Carolina 81-70
The Orange desperately needs a victory to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, while UNC looks to bolster its tourney seeding by advancing deep in Brooklyn. UNC was one of the hottest teams in February, winning six straight before dropping two straight to close the regular season. But those two losses were by an average margin of 6.5 points, including a loss at fifth-ranked Duke. Carolina enters the ACC bracket with experience and depth (don’t forget, it’s the defending national champion); expect the Heels to take care of business against a Syracuse team that has beaten just one ranked opponent all season.
Key to the Game: Avoid Scoring Droughts
The Orange offense got the job done against Wake Forest Tuesday night, but it’ll need to be a lot better to pull off the upset over North Carolina. The Orange went five minutes without a field goal in the first half against Wake, allowing the Demon Deacons to cut the deficit from 16 to four. In the heartbreaking home loss to the Tar Heels two weeks ago, ‘Cuse endured stretches of seven and four minutes in which they did not register a bucket, along with a three-minute period with no field goals to close out the contest. Consistent scoring is key in order to keep pace with the defending champs. If Syracuse can stay within striking distance in this one, it has a chance to win its second game in as many days.
Prediction: North Carolina 82-70
Although ‘Cuse was able to get the monkey off its back in the ACC Tournament by getting a win, things will only get harder from here on out. A second-round matchup with the Heels is a tough draw for the Orange. ACC First-Teamer Luke Maye’s minutes were limited in the regular-season matchup, and Carolina was still able to pull out the victory in the Dome. Maye’s ability to dominate the foul line area spells disaster for the 2-3 zone. Carolina is too talented and too well coached to bow out in its first game of the ACC Tournament.
Key to the Game: Keep UNC Off the Glass
North Carolina has dominated Syracuse the past four years and that’s mainly because the Tar Heels always dominant the Orange on the glass. In the past six meetings between the two teams, UNC has grabbed 238 rebounds compared to just 177 from Syracuse. Coincidentally, the Heels have won all six of those games. In order to stop the losing skid, Syracuse needs to keep the team with the best rebounding margin average in the country off the glass.
Prediction: North Carolina 75-69
Syracuse played its best basketball of the season the past two games and it’s definitely trending up at the right time. However, UNC is a completely different animal that poses plenty of matchup problems for SU. The Tar Heels have two forwards, Luke Maye and Theo Pinson, who are great playmakers from the high post. Plus, UNC comes into this matchup well-rested, while Syracuse and its limited bench is coming off a tiring game the night before. With all that in mind, I don’t see how Roy Williams and company don’t top Syracuse for the seventh straight time.
Key to the Game: Stop Shooting from Deep
Syracuse is very bad at shooting three-point shots. There is no good way to sugar coat it or spin it positively. The Orange shoots barely better than 32 percent. Against Wake Forest, Syracuse built up a 13 point lead with a strong inside game, but then SU missed three-pointers on five consecutive possessions, and the ‘Cuse lead was quickly cut to four. Syracuse got by Wake Forest despite its deep game, but the answer isn’t to shoot better from deep. The Orange just needs to stop.
Prediction: Syracuse 70-68
Syracuse likely needs a win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. The fact that North Carolina doesn’t is what will give the Orange the edge. SU has already proven they can play close with the Tar Heels, but the added incentive Syracuse has can serve as a major boost to the Orange down the stretch. Another reason to like Syracuse: an Orange friendly crowd at the Barclays Center will likely make this neutral site contest the equivalent of a home game for Syracuse.
Key to the Game: Quick Hands on Defense
When North Carolina came to the Carrier Dome in late January and squeaked by the Orange, the Tar Heels assisted on 25 of their 29 field goals made. That mark is the most by any team against the SU defense the entire season. Roy William’s team passed the basketball at a fast pace, and the Syracuse defenders were not prepared for back-door cuts and movement. That permitted an unpredictable Tar Heels offense; even though Luke Maye only tallied nine points. Theo Pinson scored a career-high 23 points, and freshman Sterling Manley more than doubled his season scoring average off the bench. If the ‘Cuse is to get necessary stops down the stretch of close games against this lethal UNC attack, the D must be extra aware.
Prediction: North Carolina 80-69
In order for the Orange to secure its first eye-popping win of the season, Tyus Battle needs to have his best game of the season, and Marek Dolezaj must replicate his 20-point performance against Wake Forest yesterday. SU should be able to keep the score close for most of the contest, especially due to the home-crowd advantage in Brooklyn. But in the end, North Carolina possesses more versatility, more talent, and the team should be able to pull away once the SU trap press begins. The question remains: Is a formidable showing, yet a loss, against UNC enough to push ‘Cuse past the lull of the NIT Tournament and to the excitement of the Big Dance? We’ll find out on Sunday.
Key to the Game: Syracuse’s Conditioning
It’s no secret: SU’s best players play BIG minutes. Tyus Battle (38.5 minutes per game) and Frank Howard (38.2 min/game) lead the NCAA in minutes played this season. Oshae Brissett (37.6 min/game) falls behind them to the seventh in the country. However, no one is super-human. At some point, the body fatigues, and ‘Cuse’s scorers suddenly won’t have the same pop in their step to create points like they have previously. The question becomes, “Will this be the game the Orange’s luck runs out?” Back-to-back games will test Jim Boeheim’s “you only need five guys to play” statement from earlier this year. It doesn’t help Syracuse plays North Carolina. The Tar Heels love to get out and run in transition, which is exhausting. Less than 24 hours ago, ‘Cuse played 40 minutes of basketball. Does the team have enough gas in the tank to keep up? That’ll be the deciding factor.
Prediction: North Carolina 70-65
North Carolina is on a two-game slide, and Syracuse’s frontcourt is playing its best ball of the season. As the season wears on, SU’s defense gets better and better with more practice in the zone. Additionally, since Jim Boeheim’s Boston College post-game press conference, both Paschal Chukwu and Marek Dolezaj done more to assert their will on offense. Those factors make me believe the Orange has a chance to make up for deficiency in blue-chip talent that the Tar Heel’s cup overflows with. It all points to a sneaky upset bid for ‘Cuse, but ultimately, I have a hard time not buying into a fresh North Carolina team for the win. I won’t be surprised if Syracuse proves me wrong.