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A March SparkNotes Edition of Syracuse Women's Basketball

Consider this your tl;dr version of the entire Syracuse women's basketball season.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Gather round, y'all.  It's tournament time.

The Syracuse women's basketball team is playing in the ACC Tournament at 11 a.m. on Thursday morning on the ACC Network.  And if all goes according to plan, the Orange will also make the NCAA Tournament.  So maybe you're interested in seeing how the Orange does in postseason play, but don't know a lot about the team.  Perhaps, you've checked out a game recap sometime along the season, but can't remember very much.  Either way, I got you covered.

So without further ado, here's a refresher course on the Syracuse women's basketball team, what to know and what to look for in the upcoming tournaments.

Key Players

  • Brittney Sykes (#20) – The sophomore guard from Newark, N.J. leads Syracuse in scoring with 17.1 points per game.  On Tuesday, Sykes earned All-ACC second team honors.  She's much faster and much stronger than most of the players on the court, so keep an eye out for her at all times.  Although Sykes is a guard, I would compare her to Jerami Grant from the men's side.  Both run the floor really well, have off-the-chart athleticism and make some highlight-reel plays.
  • Brianna Butler (#13) – Consider her the Trevor Cooney of the team, but without half a dozen different names and a neck beard.  After an inconsistent freshman season, Butler has blossomed this year from behind-the-arc.  At one point, she led the entire nation in three-pointers made.  She's second on the team in scoring with an even 15 points per game.  Butler, like Sykes, was a McDonald's All-American in high school.
  • Rachel Coffey (#3) – Coffey is one of four seniors trying to give Syracuse its first NCAA win in franchise history.  She's not flashy, but plays a steady point guard game. Her biggest offensive weapon is her three-point shot, especially when left alone at the top of the key.  She was the best in the ACC in assist to turnover margin.

Season Review

Syracuse completed the season with a a 21-8 record, finishing fifth in the ACC.  The Orange lost three 1,000 point scorers to graduation including Kayla Alexander, the all-time leader in scoring.  The sophomore pair of Sykes and Butler has taken over as the leaders of a very young team.

The Orange won the Paradise Jam Tournament early in the season and had three RPI Top 50 wins in the non-conference schedule.  After a smooth start, Syracuse lost three of its first four ACC games.  The team particularly missed Alexander's rebounding ability. Syracuse was 13th in the ACC in defensive rebounds and was especially susceptible in conference play. Syracuse plays an up-tempo, guard-heavy style, but it leaves them vulnerable to bigger teams.

SU was ranked as high as No. 20, but had dropped out of the Top 25 by Jan. 30 when the Orange faced powerhouse North Carolina.  But, Syracuse pulled off its biggest win of the season, stunning the No. 6 Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Orange ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak and received votes in both polls this week.

Opponent Watch

Update: 7:10 p.m. Syracuse will play the Clemson Tigers on Thursday at 11 a.m. on ACC Network.  For those of you around New York, that will likely be shown on the YES Network.  Clemson advanced on Wednesday by beating Virginia Tech, 69-56, in the first round.  SU beat the Tigers 84-75 in the Carrier Dome back in January, despite falling behind at halftime.  The Orange went on an 18-0 run that started with about seven minutes left in the game.  Butler, Sykes and Taylor Ford each had at least 16 points.

Nikki Dixon is the player to watch on Clemson.  She's the team's leading scorer and she added another 22 points on Wednesday to sink the Hokies.  Against Syracuse, she scored a game-high 21 points on 8-14 shooting.

With a win, Syracuse would face No. 14 NC State on Friday in the quarterfinals.  The Wolfpack beat the Orange in a back-and-forth game in Raleigh during the first game of ACC play.

What to Watch For

  • Turnovers If Syracuse wins, it's likely because the team won the turnover battle. The Orange plays a mix of aggressive full court press and traditional 2-3 zone, both of which force several turnovers.  This year, the NCAA added the ten second rule, requiring teams to get the ball past midcourt in a timely manner.  It made Syracuse's press even more effective.  The Orange led the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Fast Break Points – After a turnover, there's a good chance Syracuse will convert on a fast break layup.  Butler leads the team in steals and is an effective playmaker in transition.  Often, she plays the role of Andy Rautins, using her length to deflect passes at the top of the zone and then find a player streaking to the hoop.  Sykes is often on the receiving end and uses her strong driving skills to get to the basket.
  • Quentin Hillsman's Expressions – Sometimes, I wish there were GIFs for women's basketball coaches, too.  Hillsman wears his emotions on his sleeves, particularly after his team doesn't get a favorable call. The SU bench is located right next to the press table and it seems like he'll occasionally look to the group of reporters as if to ask "Did you see that too?"
  • Coach Q's Fashion – As renowned philosopher ZZ Top once speculated, "Every girl is crazy about a sharp dressed man."  Hillsman, now in his eighth year as head coach, has a passion for fashion.  And no detail is too small.  Even many of his cuff links have the word "Quentin" printed on them.  He's even added a pair of designer glasses to his press conference style this year.  Coach Q has a nice rotation of clothes suits and vests, but he isn't afraid to take a few risks either.