For the second time this year, Syracuse (19-11, 9-8 ACC) will face Florida State (17-12, 7-10 ACC), this time in the regular season finale. The Orange desperately need this win to build their NCAA Tournament resume. A loss today would be another nick in the armor of an already battered set of soldiers.
The last time these two played each other, in the Dome on February 11th, the Orange pulled out to an early lead, but saw it shrink to three at the end of the first half. In the second half, though, Syracuse brought the score to a comfortable lead and never looked back.
A lot has happened since then. The Seminoles have gone 1-4 in their last five games, the lone win last weekend against a ranked Notre Dame team. They outshot the Irish 48.6% - 35.7%, the defense holding them to only 28.6% in the second half. In their game right after facing Syracuse, they almost pulled off a huge upset against No. 10 Miami. Meanwhile, the Orange were only slightly better, with a 2-3 record in that time span. Their losses have come at the hands of Louisville, Pittsburgh, and UNC, and have beaten the likes of Boston College and NC State.
So, the question is, who will show up? Will it be the Syracuse that has FSU's number, or the one that almost lost to Georgia Tech? On the other side, will it be the Seminoles who lost miserably to the Orange and Duke, or the one that comfortably beat ranked Notre Dame?
The Roller Coaster Ride
Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley. Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. These names are synonymous with the successes and failures of their respective teams. The former two are FSU's star freshmen duo, while the latter are redshirt-seniors that carry the bulk of Syracuse's weight these days. One pair is just getting started while the other can almost count the games they have left together on the same court on one hand, or so it seems.
In their game against Miami, a rematch from earlier this season, the Seminoles had a chance to win the game. Only down one point, they had possession, with 47 ticks of the clock left, and the ball in Bacon's hands. Bacon had hit two previous game-winning shots, so this was pretty familiar territory. Instead of taking it himself, he passed it to sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes who lost control of it, forcing senior guard Devon Bookart to toss a desperation three as the shot clock expired. They turned it it over to the Hurricanes and FSU all but sealed their fate. Bacon led all scorers with 21 in their win over Notre Dame. Beasley had 14 points against Syracuse the last time out while Bacon had 11.
The Orange rely heavily on the play of Cooney and Gbinije. Just in the last two games Gbinije has had a big impact. Against NC State last weekend on "Senior Day" in the Dome, he had a career-high 34 points, carrying the team to victory. In their rematch against UNC, Gbinije had 17 points, and Cooney added 14. When either of them have gone cold, the game goes from bad to worse. For instance, Syracuse had to rely on Tyler Lydon in their most recent game against Pitt as Cooney and Gbinije scored a combined 13 points in the loss.
Impact of Inconsistency
Stand-out performances, followed by ones they wish they could forget, have plagued Syracuse and FSU this year.
An example that comes to mind on the Syracuse side is how the team went from winning their game by 17 points against No. 18 Louisville to losing it by 14, thanks to being outscored 44-31 in the second half. Two games later, Gbinije had his career-high against the Wolfpack. For the Seminoles, the blowout by the Orange was followed by two close losses that could have been victories if only a few more plays had gone their way.
There are also certain individual players who have had a tumultuous several games down the stretch. Tyler Roberson and Malachi Richardson come to mind on Syracuse's end. For a good while, Roberson looked like the answer to the Orange's rebounding prayers. Now, he's in Jim Boeheim's doghouse because, up until the UNC game this Monday, he hasn't looked all that great. Richardson has been extremely streaky of late, being one of the top scorers some nights and inefficient others. According to certain FSU players, the defense as a whole has been inconsistent. They allowed the opposition to score 80+ points three games in-a-row before limiting Notre Dame to their lowest point total of the season at 56.
* * *
Syracuse is sitting on the "right" side of the NCAA Tournament bubble right now, while FSU would have to win the ACCT to get in. The Orange have a lot of work still to do and they cannot afford to have another misstep along the way, especially at the hands of a team lower than them in the standings. Hopefully we'll see the type of team we saw the first time that Syracuse played the Seminoles. The road will be that much longer if not.