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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Niagara preview: 5 things to watch for

Last chance for an Orange pre-conference confidence booster.

North Florida v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The ACC conference season is nearly upon us. And so far, early season college basketball has not been kind to the Syracuse Orange. Quite frankly, it hasn’t been kind to many college basketball teams this year.

It’s not even January 1st and we’ve already had six different number one teams. This is the first time that’s ever happened. There are also only three teams still undefeated at this point. Conference season hasn’t even started yet!

This is a year of parody in NCAA basketball. No one is all that good, and any team can lose to any other team on any given night. So what exactly am I trying to tell all of you?

To quote Jim Carey from Dumb and Dumber:

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Yep, that’s right. Syracuse basketball is still in the hunt!

Yes, we have five losses. Yes, we’ve looked bad in all five of those games. But all five of those losses are to quality teams, and we still have a shot at turning this into a positive season if we win the games we should and upset a few we shouldn’t. The next step is against Niagara on Saturday.

And speaking of five, let’s talk about the five things to watch for during the game.

1. Slow starts

Syracuse basketball has struggled out of the gate in many games this year. In the five losses this season, the Orange are -17 in the first four minutes of the game.

For whatever reason, the team tends to start games very tight. Youth and nerves are probably playing a factor, but whatever the reasons, it needs to correct itself quickly. Digging yourself a hole against Niagara or North Florida is one thing. Doing it against an ACC rival is a whole different can of worms.

Let’s hope the Orange can get out to a fast start against the Purple Eagles and build some confidence going into ACC play.

Syracuse v Georgetown Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

2. Slow finishes

Remember that stat above about how we’re -17 in the first five minutes in our five losses? We’re -18 in the last five minutes of the first half in those same games.

Basically, we are awful to open and close the first half.

If we want to have any chance against the middle to upper echelon ACC teams, we are going to need to learn how to start and finish the first half better. But closing out the half is especially important. Sometimes you start a game cold and there’s not a lot you can do about it.

But you just can’t give up momentum going into half time. Those last five minutes of the first half are often the catalyst that propels a team to victory, or the catastrophe that seals a loser’s fate.

Moving forward, let’s make those last five minutes our catalyst, not our catastrophe.

North Florida v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

3. Wide open shots

Every game I watch I come away with the exact same frustrating reaction: we miss a lot of open shots. Like, an uncanny amount. An amount where you’re almost thinking, how is this even possible?

I can’t remember an SU team that missed this many open shots. I don’t mean to pile it on, because I honestly don’t mean it in a negative way. I really think these continued misses are a statistical anomaly. I don’t think it’s sustainable that top-flight college athletes will miss that many wide open shots throughout an entire season. I fully expect the tides to turn and for more open shots to drop.

But that won’t stop me from screaming and cursing at my screen for every. single. wide-flipping-open miss.

And that’s my right. Don’t judge me.

4. Three-lijah

Elijah Hughes is having himself a season so far. Even after a meager 1-for-5 from the three-point line against North Florida last weekend, Elijah is shooting nearly 42% from outside the arc. He’s also hitting 3.4 of them per game.

That’s a pretty remarkable pace. He’s already made 41. If he manages to hold steady, he’ll finish the regular season with 106 made threes. That would put him second all-time for a single season behind Andrew White III at 112. And that wouldn’t even include the ACC tournament nor any possible postseason opportunities. He has a real opportunity to break the record if he can keep this pace.

North Florida v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

5. Rebounding is key

On the season, Syracuse basketball is 273rd in rebounding margin, at -2.2 per contest. Every singly player on this team needs to do a better job rebounding the basketball.

Buddy Boeheim plays nearly 34 minutes a game and stands 6-feet-6 inches tall, yet averages just two rebounds per contest. That is unacceptable.

Elijah Hughes is almost always the most athletic guy on the court, yet he’s averaging only 4.5 rebounds per contest. He has the ability to do more.

Marek Dolezaj is 6-foot-10 and averaging just 5.9 rebounds per game. And don’t even get me started on “Mr. Inconsistency” Bourama Sidibe, who can give us 15 rebounds one game and two the next.

The entire team needs to do a better job on the glass. I know I sound like a broken record when I say boxing out matters, but when you’re -69 rebounds in your five losses, something has to change.

Let’s hope we see the beginnings of that change against Niagara on Saturday. What are your thoughts about the game? Let us know in the comments.