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Syracuse vs. Rutgers preview: Five things to watch

It’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge time

NCAA Basketball: Rider at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

After three tune-up games, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team gets its first real test of the season on Tuesday night. As part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Syracuse heads down to New Jersey to face the top-25 (?!?!) Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Neither of these teams have fared all that well in this annual event. ‘Cuse is 3-4, though they do have a couple big wins (including 2018 at Ohio State). SUNJ, meanwhile, is 2-4 with wins over Miami in 2018 and Clemson in 2014.

Though the Scarlet Knights are the ranked team in this one, they do have a key injury with guard Geo Baker potentially missing the game. If Syracuse can pull off an upset here, it would certainly provide some helpful momentum heading into ACC play.

Christian: Syracuse’s interior defense

Rutgers has attempted 41 threes this year and has made 12. By comparison, Syracuse has launched 87 shots from distance and sunk 30 of them. Given from what we’ve seen from the Orange defense in the first few games of the season, perimeter defense still remains an issue. The Scarlet Knights haven’t shot the three-ball frequently this year, so the attention turns to inside the arc.

This is where the Orange would love Bourama Sidibe, but with the center still out for the better part of a month, there will be a lot of attention turned to how Marek Dolezaj handles Rutgers’ guards when they get into the paint. What will help him is if Joe Girard and Kadary Richmond can keep the Rutgers backcourt and the ball on the perimeter. Don’t be surprised if the Scarlet Knights attack the paint frequently, especially if the fouls start to rack up.

Ajayi: Containing Ron Harper Jr. is the only way Syracuse gets out of this with a win

The man is literally averaging 21 PPG along with 7.7 RPG. Saying that he’s the primary offensive option for the Knights is an understatement. If Boeheim’s 2-3 zone can contain the young prospect to a bad shooting night the Orange will be able to take advantage. Many questioned how Syracuse would play without last year’s ACC leading scorer. In Syracuse’s first three games we have witnessed an unprepared but ready team compete. Players like Quincy Guerrier, Alan Griffin, Kadary Richmond, and Marek Dolezaj have shown up. They proved that even after losing out on Elijah Hughes, who was the primary offensive option last season, there will still be a way to get buckets consistently. Rutgers will be a test for the Orange but if they by any means want to pass it, it all starts defensively. Mission Slow Down Ron Harper. Jr is in effect.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

John: Let’s rain some threes

As Christian notes above, Syracuse is 30-of-87 from three on the year against underwhelming competition. But Rutgers has allowed underwhelming teams to hit 23 of 74 — and both Farleight Dickinson and Sacret Heart shot at clips over 35% from beyond the arc. With Alan Griffin and Joe Girard, the Orange should have even better odds of success. Hitting at a reasonable rate could force the Scarlet Knights away from their inside game (see above) into a perimeter approach they’re not necessarily comfortable with.

James: Rutgers at home

Rutgers finished 18-1 at the RAC last season and the Scarlet Knights are off to a 3-0 start at home this year. How much of last year’s success was buoyed by the crowd? The Scarlet Knights had eight games decided by three possessions or less in 2019-20. If Syracuse can knock off Rutgers in Piscataway, the Orange would become just the second team (Michigan) to do that in the last two seasons.

Kevin: Solving Rutgers’ defense

Last year Syracuse struggled against athletic, aggressive defenses and they are going to face their first challenge tonight. The Scarlet Knights are currently 12th in adjusted defense on KenPom and last season they finished 6th in the country in that category. With Buddy Boeheim unavailable expect Rutgers to really turn up the pressure on Joe Girard and Kadary Richmond in an attempt to wear them down. The Orange are going to need to do a better job of limiting turnovers and keeping the Scarlet Knights from getting out in transition.