The Syracuse Orange men's basketball team will visit the Dean Smith Center for the first time in program history Monday night looking for a critical resume-building victory against its host the North Carolina Tar Heels (7 p.m. on ESPN).
The Orange (14-6, 5-2 ACC) are coming off a disappointing home loss to the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday. SU missed 11 of its 19 free throw attempts and failed to connect on a possible game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds to drop its second game in a seven-day period. Before that, Syracuse had won seven consecutive games.
Meanwhile, the No. 13-ranked Tar Heels (16-4, 6-1) have currently won five straight games, the last coming Saturday against the visiting Florida State Seminoles, 78-74. Brice Johnson helped propel UNC to victory with a 18-point, 14-rebound performance, while Marcus Paige netted a team-high 19 points on six of 13 shooting. Justin Jackson (14 points) and Kennedy Meeks (12) also scored in double figures for the Tar Heels.
UNC has won 10 of its last 11 games.
Syracuse finds itself clearly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and quiet possibly be on the outside looking after Saturday's close loss to Miami.
The disappointing outcome showcased a lot of 'Cuse weaknesses like: playing a small six-man rotation, struggling to score the basketball–especially when Trevor Cooney can't get a shot off–and having troubles closing out games.
Senior center Rakeem Christmas continues to be SU's best threat, as he's coming off a 23-point performance against the 'Canes. Christmas is averaging 18.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in league play, however, he can't do it alone.
Cooney and junior swingman Michael Gbinije are suppose to help out SU's big man, but have struggled in the Orange's last two losses. Cooney has made just three of his 14 attempts in those games, while Gbinije is coming off one of his worst performance of ACC play (three rebound and nine points on 3-for-8 shooting).
Those three players are big keys for the Orange, who are currently ranked 128th in Kenpom.com's adjusted offense. Syracuse's scoring woes could also be attributed to its slow pace of play (65.6 possessions per game), which currently ranks 168th nationally.
|North Carolina Starters||Class||Height||Weight||PPG||RPG||APG||MPG|
On the other side of the court, North Carolina is a deep squad that has many talented young players. Currently, UNC has four players that are averaging in double figures led by guard Marcus Paige, who is the team's lone 3-point shooting threat making 45.0% of his attempts during league play.
Paige, who is battling plantar fasciitis but hasn't missed a game this season, barely leaves the floor, as he is averaging a team-high 31.4 minutes per game. He also might be the player to try and shutdown Syracuse's Cooney.
Teammate Kennedy Meeks is possibly the team's most productive player, as he is second in the team in scoring and has recorded nine double-digit rebounding games. Meeks is tied for second in the ACC with seen double-doubles this season.
Another UNC player that is a double-double threat is Johnson, who has compiled three in the team's last five games. During the span he is averaging 14.0 points and 9.8 rebounds, while shooting 61.7%. Currently, he is averaging a career best 7.7 rebounds per game.
UNC's two other starters, Justin Jackson and J.P. Tokoto, are also threats to get hot. Jackosn is coming off a 14-point performance against FSU, while Tokoto is a consistent staple that does a lot of the little things.
Though, the Tar Heels do not shoot the ball a lot from the outside they still find a way to score. They do this by pushing tempo–UNC is ranked 20th in the nation in tempo–and using their athletes in space, however, they know they maybe be forced to grind-it-out against SU.
|Record||14-6, 5-2||16-4, 6-1|
In comparing the two teams, one can easily see these teams are very different. First, UNC has a pretty deep roster that likes to push the tempo, while SU is very thin and likes to play slow with its 2-3 zone defense.
North Carolina is one of the highest scoring teams in the ACC, averaging the third-best point total per game (79.4). A lot of that is attributed to them being the best rebounding and passing team.
Syracuse's advantage come on defense, which is third in the league in points allowed (59.5), steals (8.5) and blocks per game. The Orange are also allowing opponents to shoot just 37.6%, which is ranked fourth overall.
Game Time: 7 p.m.
Television: ESPN–Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Shane Battier (color), Allison Williams (sidelines).
Radio: Syracuse IMG Radio Network
RPI Rankings: Syracuse–68; North Carolina 11.
What A Win Means For Syracuse: The Orange's RPI ranking took a double-digit hit after Saturday's loss to Miami. Now with it in the upper-60s, Syracuse is in need of a resume-building win and a victory at UNC would be just that.
Will it be enough to get them off the bubble? Probably not, but it would help its case a lot. Add to the fact that a big victory heading into a 8-day layoff would be fantastic.
Meaningless Prediction: Syracuse 65, North Carolina 64
The Orange's 2-3 zone could be the difference in this game, however, there's a big chance that Christmas will get into foul trouble because of it. SU will need a nearly flawless game on defense and will need to make some 3-pointers to pull off the win.
|Virginia Tech||Tues., 2/3||9pm||ESPNU|
|At Pittsburgh||Sat., 2/7||4pm||ACCN|
|At Boston College||Wed., 2/11||7pm||ESPN2|