‘Cuse Countdown Analysts Preview Syracuse’s ACC Tournament Matchup with Wake Forest
Syracuse heads to Brooklyn likely needing multiple wins to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Orange open the ACC tournament with its third game of the season against Wake Forest. After splitting their first two matchups, our analysts tell you what Syracuse has to do to beat the Demon Deacons and if they expect the Orange to live another day.
Key to the Game: Be Careful with the Basketball
In the previous two meetings between the Demon Deacons and the Orange, the turnover stats have been a telltale sign of how the game went for Syracuse. In the road loss at Wake Forest, SU lost the turnover battle, losing the ball 13 times. When Syracuse defeated Wake in the Carrier Dome, it forced the Demon Deacons to hand the ball over 14 times, while only losing the basketball 8 times. If the Orange wants to earn its first-ever win in the ACC tournament, it has to force Wake into making sloppy plays while being careful with the basketball itself.
Prediction: Syracuse 68-61
It’s tough to say which direction this game will go, as the teams split a home-and-home series this season. The Orange shot a tremendous 50 percent from three-point range in its home win over the Demon Deacons, but who knows if that performance can be replicated at a neutral site without the Dome crowd. Syracuse will have to gain the advantage in rebounding and turnovers, and in the end will win its first ever ACC tournament game.
Key to the Game: Run Wake Off of the 3-Point Line
Last time out against Wake Forest, SU allowed the Demon Deacons to drill nine second-half three-pointers. In the first half of that game, Wake had just one. Sure, the Demon Deacons hit some shots, but in reality SU failed to run them off the line until the final minutes. The Orange had success when the squad forced Wake to finish in the heart of the zone amongst the trees. If SU does that in this game the team should be in good shape.
Prediction: Syracuse 71-65
Expect SU’s offense to be solid in this game, and let’s be real, Wake is bad on defense. The Demon Deacons allow 74 points per game. They score 73. If SU can quiet the Wake shooters, unlike the past two matchups, expect a blowout. But, I think Wake Forest hangs around for a bit before its defense gets the best of itself and the SU offense makes a couple more plays down the stretch.
Key to the Game: Tyus Battle’s Performance
Battle put together one of his best career performances versus Wake Forest the last time these two teams met. The sophomore dropped 34 points in a 78-70 win in February, but the Demon Deacons held him to just 13 in Wake’s home win on Jan. 3. Battle’s performance on Tuesday night is key; he’s one of just two SU players that plays significant minutes with ACC Tournament experience. Syracuse needs his experience to pay dividends if it wants to advance past a tough WF team.
Prediction: Syracuse 72-70
The Demon Deacons limped to the finish line, losing 10 of their last 13 games. And while Syracuse hasn’t been consistent down the stretch, the Orange enter the ACC Tournament off a win over 18th-ranked Clemson. SU’s offense put together one of its strongest performances of the year, with double digit points from three players and just seven turnovers all afternoon. Expect the ‘Cuse to ride that momentum and keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a win over Wake Forest.
Key to the Game: Challenge Wake’s Sharpshooters
In the first matchup between these two teams, Bryant Crawford and Mitchell Wilbekin hit a combined seven three pointers, which lead to a Demon Deacon victory. One month later, the same tandem registered four long balls each in a losing effort. ‘Cuse’s zone needs to know where these two are on every defensive possession. This may leave the interior vulnerable to Wake’s Doral Moore, but my studies confrim that threes are indeed less than twos.
Prediction: Syracuse 65-60
Don’t let Wake’s 4-14 conference record lull you to sleep. The Demon Deacons pose some problems to the SU zone. Doral Moore had a field day in the Carrier Dome last time these teams met, registering 16 points along with 16 rebounds. In that same game, Mitchell Wilbekin knocked down three consecutive triples in a valiant comeback effort that came up short. But I think this Syracuse team learned its lesson after surrendering 14 threes to Boston College. ‘Cuse will finally pick up their first ever ACC Tournament win on Tuesday.
Key to the Game: Limit Turnovers
The Demon Deacons’ size in the frontcourt is going to be the main talking point heading into this game and rightfully so. However, I’m focused on Wake’s guards on the perimeter, specifically Bryant Crawford. The junior point-guard averages almost two steals a game and gave SU’s backcourt fits in Wake’s win down in Winston-Salem. Tyus Battle and Frank Howard combined for 11 turnovers in that January meeting. If Crawford and the rest of Wake’s perimeter defense are forcing turnovers at that rate again, there’s little to no chance Syracuse moves on to the second round.
Prediction: Syracuse 73-65
I really think SU found something in its win over Clemson Saturday. Marek Dolezaj looked like a completely different player the way he was attacking the basket and the entire team rose to the moment. Add that to the fact that Wake Forest is one of the weaker defenses in the ACC, and I expect Syracuse to control this one from the opening tip.
Key to the Game: Boxing Out Doral Moore
When looking at Syracuse’s early loss and recent win against Wake Forest side-by-side, one stat immediately jumps off the page. When the Demon Deacons beat the Orange in Winston-Salem they snagged 12 offensive rebounds. That number was cut to five in SU’s victory. No player is more important to Wake Forest’s rebounding game than Doral Moore. The 7-foot-1 junior grabbed five offensive boards himself in the first game between these two teams. When Syracuse was able to limit his presence inside in the second game, it held the Demon Deacons to only four second-chance points.
Prediction: Syracuse 73-64
For Syracuse to win, it needs its offense to come to play. Tyus Battle was electric in the Orange’s win over Wake Forest. Eleven of his 34 points came from the free throw line. Expect Syracuse to take plenty of the trips to the charity stripe once again. Wake Forest sends teams to the line more than any other ACC team. That bodes for an Orange squad that scores 24 percent of its points from free throws, the largest chunk in the conference. Syracuse should finally exorcise its ACC tournament demons in a big way against Wake Forest.
Key to the Game: A Sense of Urgency
Frank Howard turned the ball over on the first possession against Clemson on Saturday, resulting in a fast break dunk for Gabe DeVoe and an ensuing timeout just 27 seconds into the game. ‘Cuse can’t afford to play lethargically and look past a weak opponent like Wake Forest. This SU squad is at its best when the team holds onto the basketball and aggressively attacks the rim to draw fouls. Free-bees at the line can mask the Orange’s abysmal shooting from the field. When ‘Cuse downed the Demon Deacons at home in February, it shot 39 free throws; conversely, just 23 attempts in the January 3rd loss at Winston-Salem.
Prediction: Syracuse 70-61
Wake Forest possesses a clear advantage at the center position with Doral Moore capable of scoring in the late-teens on any given night. But other than that, as long as Mitchell Wilbekin or someone else doesn’t play the role of hero from beyond the arc, the Orange is a better overall team. Jim Boeheim must be tired of losing in the ACC tournament, and the 73 year-old head coach’s intensity should establish the tone early. Don’t let this talent-stricken team to “hang around,” as Wake Forest shoots the three ball with the third-best percentage in the ACC. That capability can shine against a 2-3 zone that’s allowed many threes down the stretch of close games all season.
Keys to the Game: Oshae Brissett’s 3-point shot
Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett has been one of the Orange’s most consistent threats from the outside. That’s good, because he hits the highest percentage from long range out of all his ‘Cuse teammates (34 percent). When Syracuse beat Wake Forest the last time these two teams played, the Orange shot 50 percent from deep. The first time the two teams played, SU hit only 38% of their shots behind the arc, and they lost by six points. If ‘Cuse expects to earn its first-ever ACC Tournament win, it needs its best marksmen to be on his game.
Prediction: Syracuse 65-56
This is more a product of Wake’s recent losing woes than Syracuse’s ability to win. The Demon Deacons have lost 13 of their last 16, including their last two. In every loss, they’ve failed to hold their opponents to under 70 points. With the way Tyus Battle has played the last 5 weeks (19.4 ppg), I think Syracuse picks up the win in Brooklyn.