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Syracuse vs. Clemson basketball preview: Q&A with Shakin the Southland

Hello, old friend.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange are back on the road again after winning four straight, including a road win last week against NC State. Clemson has won two of its last three games, with a no shame loss at Florida State. Both Clemson and Syracuse are on the bubble, so a head-to-head win over a fellow bubble team figures to bode well for tonight’s winning team.

To help preview the matchup, we brought on our frenemy (But srsly, ‘grats on the football title) Ryan Kantor from Shakin the Southland. We caught up at a local Denny’s for some Q&A.

TNIAAM: I'd imagine you guys aren't off to the start in the ACC you'd expected?

RK: To some extent, it's the way they lose - absolute heart breakers and total blowouts. They are probably about two games behind where we would have projected, but that very well could be the difference between a successful season and another NCAA tournament miss.

TNIAAM: What do you think the odds are if you guys making the tournament?

RK: If Clemson can beat Syracuse they have a chance. With a victory, they'll be 14-9 (4-7) with some winnable games remaining: Wake Forest, NC State, and Boston College at home. Taking care of business in those games gets them to seven ACC wins. They'll need to steal one at Duke, at Miami, at Virginia Tech, or vs. FSU to get an eighth ACC win and have a chance (thanks to a strong non-conference showing) to make the tournament.

TNIAAM: How can Blossomgame be mitigated?

RK: For most of the season, the answer was to force him to shoot from outside. Fortunately for Clemson, he has finally regained his form from three and is back to being a versatile threat who can beat you from anywhere on the court. Your best bet is ball denial. Sometimes he has trouble getting himself open and getting the ball in good position in the first place.

TNIAAM: What are the keys to the game for both sides?

RK: I think Clemson can win this game if they make enough three-pointers to stretch out the zone or score in transition before the zone has time to set-up. Both teams struggle to defend the three, so a team getting hot could play an even bigger than usual role.

TNIAAM: I don't think Syracuse has won in Littlejohn since joining the ACC, what makes it such a challenging venue?

RK: Back in the 2006-12 era, Littlejohn Coliseum was loud! It was one of the more underrated places to play in the ACC. Since then, some down years have sapped some of that enthusiasm. Absolute excellence on the football field has also spurred apathy for mediocre basketball.

They just finished a major overhaul of the arena and moved students to one sideline, which helps, but I haven't been overly blown away by the atmosphere this season outside of a handful of games.

TNIAAM: Clemson wins if...?

RK: They create turnovers and score in transition or knock down key three-pointers to stretch the zone and punish Syracuse.

TNIAAM: Syracuse wins if...?

RK: Clemson allows second chance opportunities and settles for out of rhythm three-pointers too often.

TNIAAM: Ultimate prediction time. Who wins and why?

RK: KenPom gives the Tigers a 67% chance to hold serve at home, but following the blowout loss against FSU, I don't feel comfortable coming on your site and picking Clemson. I think it's truly a 50-50 game, and probably a must win for both teams, but I'll pick Syracuse given their recent hot play.

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Thanks, Ryan!

Orange nation: Head on over to http://www.shakinthesouthland.com/ for Clemson coverage as well as our Q&A. In the interim, can Syracuse make it five straight or will the road woes emerge again? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.