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Syracuse vs. Old Dominion preview: What to watch

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With a top-25 game against Buffalo looming, Saturday’s matchup could be a trap game for SU.

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

The 25th-ranked Syracuse Orange will take on the Old Dominion Monarchs at noon on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse (7-2) had a week off for finals following its thrilling 72-71 win over the Georgetown Hoyas last Saturday. The Orange are undefeated in six home games this year and will look to build on its five game winning streak.

Including Saturday’s contest, SU will play just four more non-conference games before kicking off ACC play at Notre Dame on January 5.

Opponent Preview: Old Dominion

Old Dominion (7-3) is winners of five straight and also come into the contest well-rested following a six day break. The Monarchs were voted to finish third in Conference USA’s pre-season coaches’ poll after its 25-7 campaign and second place finish in CUSA in 2017-2018.

Old Dominion is led by Jeff Jones who is in his 27th year of coaching (6th with ODU). He previously coached at Virginia and American before his current stay in Norfolk, Virginia. Jones has built the Monarchs around defense as the team is 27th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom’s rankings — a number that carries over from last year’s squad that ranked 38th in that department.

ODU returns its two leading scorers from a season ago in senior guards Ahmad Carver and BJ Stith. The two are filling it up this season as they each average 18 points per game. The team is heavily reliant on the Carver and Stith who have combined for 55.6 percent of the Monarchs’ total points this season.

Coach Jeff Jones will likely roll out at least nine players on Saturday afternoon. ODU has strong, physical guards and two seven footers that will see the floor.

The Monarchs play at a deliberate pace — 328th in the country according to KenPom. Old Dominion is 326th nationally in points per game and 6th in opponents’ points per game.

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

What to Watch For

Frank Howard watch

Individual statistics aside, Frank Howard has been a difference maker to this year’s Syracuse team. The Orange are 5-0 since Howard’s return from injury after starting 2-2 without him.

Howard’s individual statistics haven’t been good, though. In 22 minutes per game, he’s averaging four points, 3.8 assists and 1.2 rebounds per game. The eye test tells a similar story: Howard has looked a step slower than he looked last year, lacked aggressiveness on the offensive end and his jump shot has looked flat. Coach Boeheim has said that his legs aren’t there from a conditioning standpoint and put a deadline on Howard’s recovery: “I told him he’s got this week,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com.

As ACC play quickly approaches, Syracuse needs its point guard to get his legs underneath him. The Orange have received welcomed contributions from Elijah Hughes and Jalen Carey and Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett have stepped up to carry the load for the team. But, for this team to reach its high expectations this season, it will need its senior leader to find his rhythm. The week off from practice should help Howard find it on Saturday.

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

Getting bigs going

Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe have not been giving Syracuse what it needs to be successful this season. Despite playing some of the lighter and smaller opponents the Orange will see this season, the pair combine to average just 8.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Following the Georgetown game, coach Jim Boeheim made it known that Syracuse needs its centers to step up: “For us to be successful in the long run, our centers are going to have to play.”

Chukwu played a productive 17 minutes in the second half against Georgetown. He scored eight points, played solid defense and was a key part of Syracuse’s comeback win. A solid outing against Old Dominion would be another step in the right direction for the seven footer.

Sidibe, on the other hand, has had nothing going for him since his 11-point, 10-rebound outing against Colgate back on November 21. The sophomore hasn’t looked comfortable out on the floor this season and has made mistakes that make it difficult for Boeheim to leave him on the floor. Sidibe has committed fouls 70 feet from the basket and fallen for opponents’ pump fakes enough times that Boeheim has cut his leash short. As non-conference play is winding down, Sidibe is going to need to show he can give the Orange productive minutes sooner rather than later as he risks falling out of the rotation in the new year.

NCAA Basketball: Conference USA Tournament-Western Kentucky vs Old Dominion Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Containing B.J. Stith

Stith is shooting a stellar 40.4 percent from three on 5.7 attempts per game. His backcourt mate Carver is averaging 5.4 assists per game and knows how, when and where to find open shooters. Syracuse will need to make sure it keys in on Stith and contains him throughout the game.

The Orange have done an excellent job clamping down on three point shooters the previous two games. Georgetown and Northeastern combined to shoot 17 for 59 (28.8 percent) from three against SU.