Well, here we are. After a rollercoaster year of ups-and-downs, the Syracuse Orange find themselves in position to make another potential tournament run in the NCAA Tournament. It all starts Thursday night in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the No. 8 seeded Orange take on the No. 9 seeded Baylor Bears.
Syracuse should be returning to full health after leading scorer Tyus Battle missed the ACC Tournament, so if the Orange play their way and limit mistakes, they should be able to extend their season into the weekend in Salt Lake City.
Here are three things Syracuse needs to do against Baylor to play on Saturday night.
Use their size to their advantage
After getting handled by Duke and Zion Williamson on the boards in the ACC quarterfinals, it looked as if Syracuse’s recent rebounding problem would continue to doom them in the Big Dance. However, with Baylor’s tallest contributor being just 6-foot-9, the Bears are left relying on their guards to carry the load in terms of rebounding — this is a perfect situation for the Orange to find easy looks in transition.
Jim Boeheim will need to rely on Paschal Chukwu and Oshae Brissett to win the battle on the boards in this one, which could lead to Frank Howard and Tyus Battle leaking out for easy fast break opportunities. Baylor is already without their leading scorer Tristan Clark, so the added responsibility for their guards — who grab 78% of the rebounds for the Bears — could create fatigue, making it even harder for them to stay in front of the attacking perimeter players for the Orange.
Hit the magic number of 11
This may seem like a random coincidence, but in the three wins against ranked opponents this year, the Orange have made exactly 11 threes in each game. As a subpar perimeter shooting team in general, the Orange have shown the ability to get hot in big games when it matters most, and for the month of March, every game is considered “big”.
Syracuse is going to need Elijah Hughes to get it going early and often Thursday night, as they’ll hopefully be able to get him relatively open looks off of dribble drives from Howard and Battle. Hughes can’t do it on his own, however, as the scorching hot sharp shooter (oh no did I just jinx him?) Buddy Boeheim will need to bring last week’s dominance into the Big Dance. The story of this game may happen inside the paint, but the Orange should be in business if they reach that magic number 11.
Stay out of foul trouble
It’s impressive with their limited size, but Baylor finds a way to dominate the glass with their guards as they average the second most offensive rebounds in the Big 12 with 13.4 per game. Keeping Paschal Chukwu and Oshae Brissett out of foul trouble is a must if the Orange want to create a comfortable lead against these Bears. If Chukwu or Brissett pick up early fouls, the frustration could set in for the Orange with Baylor’s ability to create second chance opportunities.
Staying out of foul trouble isn’t only important in terms of rebounding, but the Orange need their star perimeter players to be on the floor as often as possible if they want to continue dancing into the weekend.
What do you think are some other keys to this game? Drop a comment below.