When the 11-seed Syracuse Orange take on the fellow 11-seed Arizona State Sun Devils on Wednesday evening, the focus will be on the guards for both teams. Like the Orange, the Sun Devils rely on their guards to do the bulk of the scoring for the team and you feel like the duo that wins the backcourt battle is likely to win the game.
Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II are first and second on the team in minutes played, points, assists, steals and turnovers. They have attempted almost 100 more shots than the third-best Arizona State player (Kodi Justice), so it’s safe to say that the Syracuse defense will need to be focused on them at all times. The guards are very good from the foul line (both are over 84 percent on the season) and decent from three (37 percent). Evans relies on the 3 pt shot more than Holder, while the latter is more prone to turnovers averaging almost 2.5 per game.
Holder and Evans are both 6’1” so Frank Howard and Tyus Battle will enjoy a considerable size advantage. Can the Syracuse backcourt use that edge on both ends of the court? While I don’t think we’ll be seeing a lot of post opportunities for the Orange guards, the difference in height can allow Howard and Battle to shoot over the top of their opponents.
The Orange had a similar advantage against the Miami Hurricanes and Howard had one of his better games with 18 points and six assists while Battle was able to pull up for the game-clinching three.
Looking at the combined statistics of the guards you can see why this game is projected to be close. Both teams rely on these duos to drive the offense and the numbers are very similar this year.
Something for Orange fans to take note of would be the game when Arizona State played at Washington earlier this season. The Sun Devils shot 5 for 19 from three and were held to 64 points in a four-point loss. It’s certainly a tempo that Syracuse would like to see tomorrow night and I’m sure the Orange coaches are watching that game to see what the Huskies’ defense did to influence the poor shooting.
We know that the goal of the Syracuse zone is to force opponents to use clock and end up forcing tough shots. Against a team that wants to play fast (they’re top-40 in the country in tempo), it’s important that the Orange limit turnovers and make the Sun Devils work for their offense.
Can Howard and Battle use their size to close off dribble penetration and force the Sun Devils duo to shoot from deep? Will Holder and Evans be able to drive and get themselves to the foul line? The backcourt duel will likely go a long way in determining which team advances to face the TCU Horned Frogs in Detroit on Friday night.