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Syracuse vs. Ohio State preview: What to watch for

The Orange head to Columbus looking to notch their first meaningful victory of the season.

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

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team heads to Columbus, Ohio for a Wednesday night matchup with the 16th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

Syracuse (3-2) is coming off a win against Colgate in which Frank Howard returned to help the Orange end its two game skid. The Orange head out to Columbus as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Opponent Preview: Ohio State

Ohio State (6-0) hosts Syracuse after taking care of Cleveland State last Friday by a score of 89-62. The Buckeyes have notable wins against Creighton and Cincinnati — both of which came on the road. Ohio State is coached by Chris Holtmann, who is in his second year with the Buckeyes. Holtmann lead the Buckeyes to the Round of 32 where they were clipped by Gonzaga in his first year with the team.

The Bucks are led by senior point guard C.J. Jackson who is averaging 12.7 points per game. He is joined by Kaleb Wesson, a physically imposing forward who leads the team with 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. The 6’9” 270-pound sophomore has had trouble staying in shape and often finds himself in foul trouble. Wesson had three or more fouls in 19 of 33 games last year and half of his games this season. Both an impactful post presence and a capable shooter, Wesson is the most productive Buckeye when he is on the floor.

Freshman Luther Muhammad and senior-transfer Keyshawn Woods are major contributors for Ohio State. The two will look to dice up Syracuse’s zone with slashing drives and kick-outs. Duane Washington Jr., nephew of five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher, will be a player to look out for in this matchup. Washington Jr., a freshman, is shooting 48 percent from three on 4.2 attempts per game. He is averaging 19.8 minutes per game and will likely see an increased role against the Orange.

What to Watch For

Without its starting point guard and senior leader, Syracuse struggled when competition picked up against UConn and Oregon. The Orange are looking to prove themselves against a capable opponent for the first time in 2018 but may be without their starting center, Paschal Chukwu. Here is what we are watching for in Wednesday night’s matchup:

Frank Howard’s Aggressiveness

I discussed earlier this week about how the senior point guard was passive in his return to action against Colgate. In 19 minutes, Howard didn’t once attack the basket. Howard’s ability to get to the rim or find open players via the drive and kick will be a key moving forward for Syracuse. A team devoid of reliable scorers and play-makers, the Orange offense would benefit from an increased level of aggressiveness from its point guard.

Kaleb Wesson’s Post Presence

Wesson out-weighs Paschal Chukwu by 35 pounds, Bourama Sidibe by 65 pounds and Marek Dolezaj by 90 pounds. As UConn’s Eric Cobb showed us, Syracuse has difficulty handling aggressive, physically imposing big men:

Eric Cobb bodies Paschal Chukwu down low.

Syracuse is going to need to find ways to neutralize Wesson’s presence in the paint. The Ohio State forward uses his body well and can finish around the rim. Knowing Wesson may “get his”, the Orange may elect to go small with Dolezaj at center to give the offense a boost—especially if Chukwu sits. The Orange found themselves in this position often last year where Dolzaj proved himself to be a serviceable center on the defensive end.

Pace of Play

Ohio State plays at a slow, grind-it-out pace; they are 295th out of 353 Division I teams in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. If Ohio State can slow the pace down and be efficient on the offensive end of the floor, Syracuse could be in trouble. Ohio State will likely game plan to limit the Syracuse transition offense as it is no secret that the Orange struggle in the half court. Syracuse, who is 320th in the country in field goal percentage, will need to get stops, force turnovers and push the pace to create opportunities for easy baskets.

Three-Point Shooting

Syracuse survived Colgate’s air raid in last Wednesday’s matchup. Colgate launched 23 threes in the first half as they kept the game tight heading into half time. Ohio State is shooting the three at a near-40 percent clip this season and poses a much bigger threat on the outside than Colgate had. Syracuse will need to neutralize Ohio State’s shooters by knowing where they are on the floor at all times and closing out hard.

Ohio State matched up with Samford earlier this season in a game in which Samford played the 2-3 zone. The Buckeyes used a player at the free throw line (the high-post) as a facilitator of the offense—the guards would pass it in to the high-post and find open shooting areas on the floor for kick outs and pitch backs for open threes.

Ohio State passes for an open three.

Assistant coach Gerry McNamara emphasizes the importance of not allowing the pass into the high-post when he works with the guards. Frank Howard and Tyus Battle are going to need to limit these passes to avoid Ohio State having open looks from three.

Press Defense

In past years, Syracuse has been able to use the 1-2-2 trapping press to force turnovers and recover from deficits. This season has been a different story. The Orange have forced just two turnovers in their last 26 attempts. Opponents have been able to use skip passes to easily beat the press—a key indicator that the ball handlers are not under enough pressure.

Syracuse will be conflicted with their decision to implement the press as the team will likely be looking to speed up the pace of play but also cannot afford to give up easy baskets—especially if they aren’t turning the Buckeyes over.