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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. NC State preview: Five things to watch

Syracuse looks to secure an important victory at home tonight

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 Syracuse at NC State Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is coming off a two point victory over Wake Forest on Saturday. It was a game that we almost let slip away, but a win is a win. Now we set our sights on NC State.

But before getting into that game, I need to talk about something that’s been bugging me for years, but came to a head on Saturday: poor officiating.

First off, let me just say that I have absolutely no problem with calls going against SU and do not feel there is a specific “ACC bias” against the Orange as many fans do. What I have a problem with is the inconsistency with calls.

On one trip, a touch foul is called on a play where contact is barely made. The very next play, someone will be tackled down low without a whistle. One play, a charge will be called, but the next time it happens, it will be a blocking foul.

It’s this kind of inconsistency that is infuriating to a fan, and that came to a head on Saturday. The tempo and pacing of the game weren’t dictated by the players on the court, but by the refs and their inconsistent, momentum-changing whistles.

All three Orange players that fouled out did so on incredibly weak fifth foul calls. Bourama Sidibe fouled out with his hands straight up in the air. Quincy Guerrier fouled out on an over the back that didn’t have any effect on the outcome of the play. And Marek Dolezaj fouled out on a technical in one of the most egregious instances of a referee overreaction that I’ve seen since the Teddy Valentine fiasco last year.

Marek’s technical wasn’t quite that bad, but it was close. There is absolutely no place for these “tough guy” antics for refs in college basketball. And don’t even get me started on Buddy Boeheim being mauled on what could have been a game ejection that went down as a common foul.

Someone needs to start holding these refs accountable. Their often underwhelming performance should not be tolerated in a game where officiating can hold so much sway. Like in any business, you reward those that do a good job, and get rid of the dead weight. But that’s a matter for a different article.

On to tomorrow’s game! Let’s take a look at the five things to watch for against NC State.

1. The Girard & Hughes Slump

Over the past six games, Joe Girard and Elijah Hughes have not shot the ball well. Hughes is a pedestrian 35-94 from the field (37.2 percent) and an abysmal 9-41 from three-point range (21.9 percent). Girard isn’t much better, going 20-65 overall (30.8 percent) and 10-41 from three (24.4 percent).

For Girard, I think the reason is fairly simple: the freshman wall. Few freshman are playing as many minutes as Girard and asked to do as much as he has. He is our main point guard and ball handler, one of our main play-makers, and one of our most active defenders.

For Hughes, it simply comes down to teams game-planning for him. He isn’t getting the open shots he got earlier in the year. Although Marek Dolezaj and Buddy Boeheim have emerged as scoring threats, teams have focused on Hughes the most, and for good reason. He leads the ACC in scoring and is one of the best players in the ACC.

We are going to need both Girard and Hughes to emerge from their slumps if we are going to make a run down the stretch and get to the NCAA Tournament. It all starts against NC State. I think both players are due for breakout shooting games, and the time feels right against a fairly porous Wolfpack defense (NC State is 151st in three-point defense and 170th in points allowed per game).

Iowa v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

2. Foul trouble

In two of our last three games, we have had three players foul out. That is unacceptable. As much as I have been ragging on poor officiating, our players are just as much responsible for putting themselves into precarious foul situations with some of the silliest fouls I’ve ever seen.

We can’t go a single game without multiple over-the-back fouls or fouls in transition 90 feet from the basket. The lack of defensive awareness for our interior players is truly shocking, and if it doesn’t change, will be directly responsible for several more losses, much like it was against Clemson and almost Wake Forest.

3. Offensive versatility

This team has developed into one of the better offenses in the entire country. In fact, after the Wake Forest game we moved up to 33rd in offensive efficiency in the country. We have multiple scorers who can do it at multiple levels, which is difficult to stop for any team.

The true reason for the offensive explosion is our outside shooting. Having multiple players who are a serious threat to drain threes has opened up the offense. Teams are forced to guard us tight on the perimeter, leaving opportunities for our guards to beat them one-on-one.

Additionally, the emergence of Marek Dolezaj as an offensive swiss army knife has been huge for this team. If Dolezaj gets the ball at the high post, good things happen. He either drives into the defense and gets to the hoop for a basket, or kicks it out when the defense collapses to an open shooter.

We need to see more of this against NC State. Get the ball to Dolezaj and let him go to work. If he can see 15-20 touches or more on offense, I think we win this game.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 25 Pitt at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

4. Locking down the perimeter

NC State is not a great three-point shooting team. In fact, no one on the team shoots better than 38 percent from the outside. What they excel at is having their guards get into the paint and then creating havoc as the defense tries to collapse.

That is the tough task for Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard on Tuesday night. Both players need to keep the athletic NC State guards in front of them and not let them get to the paint. They are going to be prodding the top of the zone all game, and if Boeheim and Girard can lock down outside and force them into tough perimeter shots or funnel them to the wings, we have a great chance to win.

5. Can anyone cool down Buddy Boeheim?

While Girard and Hughes have been struggling, Buddy Boeheim has been on absolute fire. In conference play, Boeheim is hitting a ridiculous 42.4 percent of his three-point shots. In catch and shoot situations, he’s basically automatic. At this point, if he gets the ball and is able to square up, I’m just assuming it is going in. It’s actually a surprise when he misses.

So how does NC State defend Boeheim? Do they send their best player and face guard him, opening up Elijah Hughes and company to pick up the slack? Do they try and focus on Hughes as the primary threat? Are they somehow able to contain both players?

Those are the matchup problems that every team now has as they face the Orange. Boeheim has quickly turned himself into one of the premier shooters in the country, and that just makes this team even more dangerous.