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Syracuse vs. NC State: Previewing SU's Final Home Game of the Season

The Orange will look to end a two-game slide when they square off against NC State in Syracuse's final home game Saturday.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a 75-61 win over Boston College on February 14, Syracuse was riding a five-game win streak and had soared in experts' bracket projections. Predictions of Syracuse missing the tournament all together had evolved into the Orange being listed as high as a seven seed on CBS Sports.

However, less than two weeks later, and having lost their past two games by an average of 14 points, Syracuse now finds themselves squarely on the bubble once again. If the NCAA tournament were to begin today, the Orange would most likely enter March Madness as a 10 seed, or an 11 seed in the play-in game according to experts.

With just three games left before the ACC Conference Championship Tournament, and their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging on by a thread, every game is of the utmost importance. While NC State may sit at 14-14 and 4-11 in conference play, Syracuse doesn't have the luxury to overlook any opponent.

With away games against No. 7 North Carolina, and Florida State to close out the regular season, Syracuse cannot afford to lose to NC State if they want any hope at making the NCAA Tournament. Let's take a look at some of the key factors to consider heading into Saturday's matchup:

Rebounds. Rebounds. Rebounds.

Throughout the entire season, Syracuse has not been a strong rebounding team – they're tied for No. 177 in the country with an average of 36.1 rebounds-per-game.  While Tyler Roberson averages 8.5 boards, and Tyler Lydon 6.5, no one else on the roster averages more than 4.4.

Even worse, the Orange have been especially atrocious on the glass as of late. In Syracuse's last two games – both losses – they've been out-rebounded 81-53 overall, and 28-14 when it comes to offensive rebounds. When you're losing the battle on the glass by that drastic of a margin, it becomes extremely tough to win games – as the Orange can attest to.

Syracuse will look to slow down NC State starting forward Abdul-Malik Abdu. The 6' 8" big man leads the Wolfpack with 8.6 rebounds-per-game, including 12 games with double-digit boards.

Tyler Roberson, Where Art Thou?

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim called out the junior forward in his post-game press conference following Syracuse's 66-52 loss to Pittsburgh, and for good reason. While Roberson may lead the Orange in rebounds, and has shown flashes of dominance on the offensive glass in the past, he has severely struggled as of late.

Since recording a double-double against Virginia Tech on February 2, Roberson has averaged just 5.75 points and 4.25 rebounds – a stark contrast to his season average of 9.3 points-per-game and 8.5 rebounds-per-game. His shooting percentage has also progressively declined throughout that four-game span: 4-4 against Florida State, 3-7 against Boston College, 2-6 against Louisville, and 0-1 against Pittsburgh.

The Orange will need Roberson to break out this slump, because – as Boeheim made perfectly clear – they don't exactly have anyone else on the bench that can play ahead of him.

Poor Shooting. Bad Shooting. Awful shooting.

This may come as a shock, but the easiest – and most effective – way to win a basketball game is to score more points than the opposing team. Now, to do that, you need to shoot the ball INTO the basket. While this may seem simple enough, Syracuse has had difficulty doing that lately.

The Orange have struggled to shoot the ball both from the field, and behind the arc, in its past two games against Louisville and Pittsburgh. Syracuse shot just 38 percent from the field and 33.3 from the three-point line against the Cardinals, to finish with only 58 points.

Against Pittsburgh, the Orange were even worse, shooting only 37.3 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from the three-point line, to finish with just 52 points. It was the first time all season Syracuse had gone two straight games without scoring more than 60 points.

Syracuse will need to shoot the ball well if they want to keep NC State at bay. The Wolfpack has averaged 78.6 points-per-game in their last 10 contests, including one game in which they nearly broke the 100-point threshold in a 99-88 win over Wake Forest.

Paging Malachi Richardson. Paging Malachi Richardson. Hello, you there?

Speaking of poor shooting... Remember when we were all afraid of Malachi possibly leaving early for the NBA Draft? Well, those concerns seem foolish right about now. After shooting six-for-10 to finish with 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists in Syracuse's blowout win over Florida State, Richardson has struggled with his shot since.

In Syracuse's last three games, the 6' 6" freshman is shooting just 21.9 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from behind the arc. An even bigger concern for Syracuse is the fact that Richardson's shooting slump has actually gotten progressively worse, not better.

Against Boston College Richardson shot 30.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range to finish with 15 points. In Syracuse's next game, against Louisville, Richardson shot just 22.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from behind the arc to finish with only 10 points. And in Syracuse's most recent loss to Pittsburgh, Richardson shot a measly .100 percent from the field and missed all six of his three-point attempts to finish with only six points.

The Orange desperately need their once-freshman sensation to re-discover his shot if they want any chance of closing the regular season out strong.

Don't Pop The Bubble

As stated above, after losing their past two games, Syracuse is back to being squarely on the bubble. In fact, Syracuse is currently being ranked anywhere between an eight seed and missing the NCAA Tournament completely, according to Bracket Matrix – a website that groups all of the NCAA Tournament Bracketology predictions into a single spreadsheet.

Out of the nearly 100 bracket posted, Syracuse's averages out as a 10 seed, with two experts leaving Syracuse off of their brackets altogether – Real Time RPI and Team Rankings.

While NC State may not be a considered a must-win, it's about as close as it could get for the Orange, as a three-game losing streak will almost surely drop Syracuse down to a play-in game, or worse – into the NIT.