Syracuse Can’t Overlook St. Bonaventure

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim reacts to the officials call during the second half against South Florida in an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Syracuse won 56-48. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
Friday, Dec 22, 2017 at 12:07 pm by Sports Editor

By Christian De Guzman

Syracuse (10-1) men’s basketball survived one scare this holiday season. Tuesday’s 81-74 win over Buffalo was much closer than the Orange is used to at this time of year. To make matters worse, SU’s next opponent is significantly stronger than the Bulls, and beat Buffalo more convincingly.

St. Bonaventure (9-2) has an NCAA Tournament bid on its mind, and a win against Syracuse would bolster its resume further. The Bonnies already have a marquee win against Maryland and they enter the Carrier Dome on a six-game winning streak. A lot of signs point to a potential trap game for the Orange.

All eyes should be focused on the backcourt of both teams. The senior duo of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley will battle SU leaders Tyus Battle and Frank Howard. Adams and Mobley were pre-season All-Atlantic 10 selections, and both guards are dangerous in their own way.

Adams is an all-around offensive machine. Last season, he ranked second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (20.6 points per game) and first in the conference in assists (6.5 per game). The senior missed the first six games of St. Bonaventure’s season due to a sprained ankle. In his return, Adams picked up right where he left off, scoring 17.2 points per game and recording 5.8 assists per game.

The Orange defense can’t neglect Mobley either. He was St. Bonaventure’s go-to man while Adams was recovering from injury, and still acts as a premier offensive threat. Mobley has five games this season over 20 points. While his production has slightly dipped since Adams returned to the lineup, Mobley still acts as a high-volume shooter for the Bonnies.

The Orange has struggled to defend perimeter shooting all year. Players such as Kevin Huerter and Devonte’ Graham have taken advantage of the Syracuse 2-3 zone that naturally gives up three-pointers. Both Adams and Mobley aren’t afraid to pull up from beyond the arc. Mobley has attempted at least eight three-pointers in six games, while Adams has attempted at least six shots from distance in three games this season.

Even if you ignore the performances of Huerter and Graham, SU’s three-point defense has not been something to gloat. The Orange is holding opponents to a 33.2 three-point field goal percentage. While that might seem low, opposing defense are making 8.6 three-pointers per game. Opponents aren’t afraid to take shots from distance against SU. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that either Adams or Mobley could have a performance from beyond the arc like Huerter’s or Graham’s.

Turnovers are another area where the Bonnies could take advantage of against Syracuse. St. Bonaventure averages 8.6 steals per game. While the Orange is averaging 9.0 steals per game, SU’s turnover margin sits at just 1.4. The Bonnies are 14th in the nation in turnover margin with 5.2. Frank Howard’s ball security has been a question throughout his career. Even with his increased role this year, Howard is still turning over the rock 4.3 times per game. St. Bonaventure could easily make Howard feel very uncomfortable running the offense, and with Howard Washington still not seeing significant minutes, it could be a long day for the junior guard.

SU’s strength this season has been rebounding, and that’s the area in which the Orange can dominate the Bonnies. Syracuse’s 6.2 rebound margin ranks sixth in the nation, while St. Bonaventure’s rebound margin is an even zero. The Bonnies’ leading rebounder in LaDarien Griffin only stands at 6’6”, while SU’s average height is just under 6’9”. The length of Syracuse should pose problems for St. Bonaventure.

The Bonnies bring an aggressive backcourt duo that isn’t afraid to shoot from distance. St. Bonaventure also can turn the ball over with protecting it on offense. Syracuse cannot fall asleep against its New York state foes on Friday night at home. Otherwise, the Orange may have to deal with an unexpected loss against a team who is hungry for an upset.