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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Boston College preview: Five things to watch

Can the Orange soar over the Eagles?

Boston College v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

It’s amazing what one win can do to lighten the mood, isn’t it? Now the question is, can Syracuse basketball keep the hard-fought momentum they earned with a win over the Cavaliers? We’ll find out on Wednesday night as the Syracuse Orange host the 9-7 Boston College Eagles at the Dome in Syracuse.

While there are still some pretty ugly warts that this Syracuse team will have to overcome to have a productive second half of the season, there were also some excellent signs of improvement against Virginia.

For one thing, we did a much better job on the boards than in the first meeting, where we were out-rebounded by 19 rebounds. In game two, that advantage dropped to just three for Virginia, and was one of the key differences between a 14-point blowout loss and an OT win.

Another huge improvement was the outside shooting. In game one, Syracuse shot a pathetic 17.2 percent from three-point land. This time around, we hit more than 44 percent of our threes.

How will these rebounding and shooting trends pan out against Boston College? We’ll find out on Wednesday, but in the meantime, let’s delve into the five things to watch during the game.

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

1. Marek Dole-em-out

Against Virginia, Marek Dolezaj dished out five of the team’s 11 assists. Marek has become a stabilizing force on the offense, able to make great passes from just about any position in the half court. At 6-foot-11, he has the size to see over the defense, and he has the instincts and playmaking abilities needed to find teammates in the right spots for easy shots.

On the season, Dolezaj has 50 assists and just 23 turnovers. In his past five games, he’s averaging a hair under five assists per game while turning it over just 1.6 times per contest. He’s very efficient with the ball in his hands and does a great job of making the right read.

Look for that to continue against Boston College. Marek is the glue that holds the offense together, and I fully expect that to be in full effect against the Eagles.

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

2. Buddy Buckets

Here’s a shocking statistic for you: In Syracuse’s seven losses, Buddy Boeheim is shooting 34.7 percent from the field overall, and 37.2 percent from three-point range. That’s right, Buddy is shooting better from three in our losses than from two. He’s 11-for-36 from two-point land, good for an abysmal 30.5 percent inside the arc.

In our nine wins, his numbers skyrocket. He’s hitting 42.4 percent of his threes, and 45.7 percent of his twos. A lot of that is based on shot selection. In wins, Buddy has taken open threes and open jumpers. In losses, he has forced the issue, taking off balance threes and fadeaway twos with a defender in his face.

Shot selection is the name of the game here. When his shots aren’t falling, he really needs to defer to his teammates rather than take those off-balance shots. Boeheim has been very vocal about giving Buddy the green light to shoot through his slump, and if it’s a good shot, I completely agree. But those off-balance or contested shots need to go. Same goes for Joe Girard.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

3. Mighty Joe Young

Speaking of Mr. Girard, can we please talk about just how far he’s progressed already? I realize you don’t score more than 4,000 points in high school without being an effective scorer, but I think what has really surprised with Joe is his playmaking ability. He isn’t just a volume scorer. He’s also done a great job as a distributor and leader, which is an impressive feat as a freshman.

Similar to Marek, Joe has an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio. On the season, he’s dished out 63 assists and only turned it over 32 times. A nearly 2:1 assist-turnover ratio is outstanding for any player, let alone a freshman point guard on a 9-7 team.

Even defensively, I see Joe starting to turn the corner. Unfortunately, his size will always make him a slight liability at the top of the zone as bigger guards and forwards can easily shoot and pass over him, but his instincts and quickness have turned him into an excellent defender of the passing lanes.

At least two to three times every single game he is getting his hand on a ball entering the paint. His reaction and anticipation at the top is outstanding, and something that will only improve in time. He may never be on the same level as past lockdown defenders like Andy Rautins, Michael Carter-Williams, or Michael Gbinije, but in a year or two he could be quite the handful up top.

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

4. One and done defensive possessions

Defensive rebounding continues to be the Achilles’ heel of this Syracuse basketball team. Even in a win against Virginia, the defensive glass was a liability for the Orange. They gave up 16 offensive rebounds against the Hoos, a number that would lose most games. Thankfully, the Virginia offense is beyond bad and they rarely converted those second chance opportunities into points.

Boston College is an equally poor offensive team, but it still stands to reason that less offensive chances equals less points given up. Second chances stretch a defense and lead to open opportunities for the opposition, so limited offensive rebounds is essential to improving a defense that has looked incredibly shaky all season.

5. Start fast

In five of Syracuse’s seven losses, the Orange has been outscored in the first 10 minutes of the game by 29 points. Slow starts and a sluggish offense have handcuffed the Orange in many of their losses, and it’s a trend that needs to change.

Offensively, that means not settling for poor shots early in the shot clock. Working the ball around and looking for the best opportunity is always a good thing, but it’s especially important at the start of games to avoid falling behind.

A huge part of basketball is mental, and getting into a hole early can have a negative impact for the rest of the game. Conversely, a hot start can boost confidence in not only those who are shooting well, but in the entire team. Look no further than the Georgia Tech game last month for evidence of that.

Will the Orange get off to a hot start against Boston College, or will the SU fans at the Dome be stuck standing and clapping? Let us know what you think in the comments section.