As you're well aware of by now, the Syracuse Orange will face the North Carolina Tar Heels tonight in the Final Four for a chance to play in championship game on Monday night. The first two meetings went North Carolina's way at home and on the road. In the first game of the season I previewed what North Carolina would run against the 2-3 zone. In the second game, it was mostly three out, two in with UNC looking to get the ball into the high post. Here are our keys below:
Syracuse ranks 25th in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 64.6 points per game. Conversely, North Carolina is first in the nation in offensive efficiency, scoring 123.1 points per 100 possessions (per KenPom). Syracuse will want to play this game in the 60's so slowing the tempo will be imperative.
On the other hand, North Carolina will look to speed the game up and even push the ball up the floor on made baskets. The higher scoring the game is, the better chance North Carolina has at winning the game.
Three Point Disparity
Syracuse is 24th in the country in made threes with 307 on the year. North Carolina is 185th with 209 threes made. Syracuse will have to take and make threes to stay competitive. On the defensive end, Syracuse will want to force UNC to shoot contested threes -- the Orange rank 18th in the country in three-point percentage defense as opponents only shoot 30 percent from three against the 2-3 zone.
Expect North Carolina to get the ball into the high-post a lot. North Carolina will run three out and two in with the bottom two guys rotating in and out of the high-post to low-block. Brice Johnson will likely be the main culprit around the high-post but UNC's cadre of bigs are capable of making plays in there. Not allowing the ball to enter the high-post will be key, but defending the high-post once the ball is entered will be of greater importance.
UNC: Brice Johnson has scored 20 or more points in his last three NCAA Tournament games and had 18 in the first-round matchup against Florida Gulf Coast. Expect Johnson to have a 20 and 15 type of performance tonight. Also, Marcus Paige has found his shooting stroke in the NCAA Tournament but only has a combined nine points against Syracuse this season.
Syracuse: I'm going to go out on a limb and say Michael Gbinije. But aside, Trevor Cooney will play a big part in tonight's game. He's gone off against UNC before with a season-high 27 points in the first meeting this year and 28 points last season against the Tar Heels. Getting near 30 is unlikely, but a solid outing from Cooney against UNC would go a long way.
So there you have it. Syracuse will have to force the ball away from the high-post on defense and will have to knock down shots from the perimeter to have a shot at the championship game. We'll have the game thread and all of your pre and post game coverage so be sure to keep it locked on the site. Go Orange!