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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. North Carolina preview: Five things to watch

With a win, the Orange can guarantee a winning season and keep the streak alive.

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images

For 30 minutes against Pittsburgh, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team looked like one of the best offensive and defensive units in the country. We made shots, made smart decisions, and played some of our best defense of the season.

Unfortunately, the other 10 minutes, including the first few to open the game and the last six or seven were beyond ugly. We got lucky in that Pitt was somehow even worse. I don’t mean to be a downer here, as we obviously cruised to a 23-point win. I’d just like to point out the true potential this team has when they are dialed in and focused. If we could play like that for an entire 40 minutes, there aren’t many teams in the country that can beat us.

But now we turn our sights from Pitt to the North Carolina Tar Heels, and I have a feeling it’s going to be much tougher sledding. Even at home in the Dome, UNC is going to give the Orange all they can handle. Let’s take a look at the five keys to the game and what to watch for.

North Carolina v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

How to handle Cole Anthony

Since his return to the hardwood on February 1st, Cole Anthony has averaged 19.8 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game. And although the Tar Heels are just 1-7 since he’s been back, they’ve also lost five of those seven games by six points or less. They took Duke to overtime, lost by six to FSU on the road, and lost on multiple buzzer beating shots.

The enigma is, what do you do with Cole Anthony on defense? Anthony is a volume shooter who takes 16.7 shots per game. You know he’s going to get his. The question is, do you encourage him to shoot from the perimeter, where he’s hitting just 31.6 percent, but risk him getting hot and torching us? Or do you guard him tight and risk the blow by which will absolutely decimate our interior defense?

Personally, I think you have to just let him shoot. Don’t bite on pump fakes and do everything you can to get a hand in his face for shots, but focus your efforts on not letting him get into the paint. No easy buckets, no easy passing lanes.

Elon v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Containing UNC’s big men

It doesn’t end with Cole Anthony for North Carolina. They also have a duo of interior big men that will cause major issues for the Orange. Garrison Brooks is going to cause trouble in the paint for SU. He averages nearly 16 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, third best in the ACC.

But here’s the real problem. Of Brooks’ 8.5 total rebounds, 3.1 come on the offensive glass. He is an exceptionally good offensive rebounder, and the Orange are exceptionally bad at boxing out.

And here’s the even bigger problem. UNC also has Armando Bacot, who’s an inch taller, 10 pounds heavier, and nearly as deadly on the offensive end. Bacot himself is averaging 8.2 rebounds (7th in the conference) and 2.6 offensive boards per game.

Between Bacot and Brooks, the Orange are going to have their hands full. I don’t see how the Orange win the rebounding battle. Keeping it close and not giving up easy second chance opportunities is going to be the name of the game. Make them work for every point and rebound they get.

Buddy Boeheim’s ankle

The news on Buddy Boeheim seems promising. It doesn’t seem to be a major ankle sprain, and that’s a huge relief.

Ankle injuries are no joke. As someone who’s fully torn ligaments in both, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Recovery times are crazy long, and getting your explosiveness back is something that can take months, years, or never fully return depending on severity.

So hopefully Boeheim’s ankle injury is just a tweak. Even so, it will be interesting to see how he plays against North Carolina. Will he be at all tentative? Will he lose a step?

I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing a lot more Brycen Goodine in this game. Goodine may not be the offensive weapon that Boeheim is, but his defense has been absolutely outstanding up top and he’s finally starting to turn the corner with his shot. Now is a perfect time to get him some extended minutes and let Buddy ease back into the rotation.

Not that I actually expect that to happen. If Boeheim is healthy enough to play, he’ll probably play 35 minutes minimum. We know how JB rolls.

Wake Forest v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Three-point shooting

North Carolina is 205th in three-point field goal defense as a team (33.5 percent). The Orange need to take full advantage of this weakness.

I think UNC is going to score a lot of points against this Syracuse defense. We haven’t yet proven capable of stopping a team with multiple big men, and I don’t think Saturday will buck that trend. We’re going to need to score a lot to keep up.

Unfortunately, Syracuse has been incredibly cold from the outside over the past 10 games at 28.3 percent. While SU has proven to be a streaky team, I don’t think they are truly this bad from the outside. They’ve missed a number of wide open threes all over the court. Elijah Hughes and Joe Girard are big culprits there, often launching from well behind the arc with plenty of time on the shot clock, or taking “heat check” shots with no one even in position for a rebound.

To beat UNC, we need to take good three-pointers. We need to take the open threes somewhere in the vicinity of the line, and pass on the long bombs. Basically, we need to shoot smart. I know that Girard and Hughes can make them from way outside, but they’ve done so at a very low clip, and those misses have often led to long rebounds and fast break opportunities.

Let’s take the high percentage shots against North Carolina and make them pay for their poor perimeter defense.

Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Keep the streak alive

Syracuse looks to keep their consecutive season winning record streak in tact, and will do so with a win against North Carolina on Saturday. The streak currently sits at 49 consecutive seasons, the longest in NCAA history!

Getting to 50 straight winning seasons is a monumental feat, and something that should not be taken lightly. It means that the Orange haven’t had a losing season in most of the fan-base’s entire lives. Think about how incredible that is for a minute. That just doesn’t happen in sports.

We should all be very thankful at the success this program has had. I know we’re in a bit of holding pattern lately, but it’s still far better than what virtually any other program in the nation has to deal with.

So let’s go out and get win number 17 and claim our 50th consecutive winning season! Go ‘Cuse!