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Syracuse men’s basketball vs. Wake Forest preview: Five things to watch

Can the Orange overcome their inner-demons to defeat the Demon Deacons?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 ACC Tournament - Wake Forest v Syracuse Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After two straight losses, the Syracuse Orange look to get back on track Saturday against Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Hopefully a full week off will be just what the doctor ordered for this Syracuse squad and they can put together a series of wins.

It all starts with the Demon Deacons. Let’s take a look at the five things to watch for in Saturday’s game.

Duke v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

1. Start fast

In Syracuse basketball’s nine losses, they are -31 in the first half. That’s nearly four points per game. We’ve lost three of our last four games by four points or less. We’re a few faster starts away from being 16-6 right now and on the right side of the bubble.

Slow starts have hampered this team throughout the season, and it’s something we’ll need to avoid against Wake Forest. While Wake is not a great team, they are still capable of winning this game if we don’t put them away early. Just like the Clemson game, if they are allowed to stay close, bad things will happen down the stretch. Get out to an early lead, then keep the pedal to the floor.

2. Three point rejuvenation

Do you remember when you were a kid shooting hoops in your driveway, and you’d go through those stretches where you could seemingly make nothing? It didn’t matter if you practiced every day for hours, you’d just hit that patch where you’d miss like 12 shots, including four or five layups, in a row. By the end you were just chucking the ball at the hoop in frustation.

That was Syracuse from the outside the past six games. We’ve been those frustrated kids tossing up shot after shot to no avail.

But those streaks always ended. And often, for me at least, a new streak of makes would start after it, and things would balance out.

I think we’re at the time for Syracuse with their shooting. The week off will help with the fatigue and will give them fresh legs. I think we break out of our slump against Wake Forest and have one of our best games of the season from the perimeter.

Duke v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

3. Joe and Marek

Against Duke, Joe Girard and Marek Dolezaj combined for 39 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, and five steals. Joe had just a single turnover in the face of near constant harassment from Tre Jones, and Marek set a career high in points while managing to not foul out.

Both have played solid all year, and both have really stepped it up lately. They are a big reason this team is winning, or at least competing, in all of their recent games.

We’re going to need to see them continue to contribute in a big way moving forward. It’s going to be essential that both play a big role against Wake Forest, because I think they are two of the best passers and playmakers on the team, and they open up so much for Buddy Boeheim and Elijah Hughes. Look for both to get involved early and often.

4. Interior defense

The interior defense is a major concern. Any team with moderate athleticism this year has decimated the Orange inside. And while Wake isn’t the most athletic out there, they have some players, including Olivier Sarr, who I briefly spotlighted in the TV/Streaming article earlier today.

At 7-feet tall, Sarr is going to be far too much for our bigs to handle. The other problem is Brandon Childress. He’s one of the better point guards in the ACC, and has a great ability to get into the lane and find open teammates. That is pretty much Orange kryptonite. Slashing guards that are solid interior passers.

The Orange are going to need to make a concerted effort to stop Childress from getting into the paint, and also a concerted effort to deny Sarr the ball on the interior. It’s not going to be an easy battle on either front, but protecting the paint is essential to winning the game.

Duke v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

5. Transition offense

This year, the Orange are 30th in the country in offensive efficiency, and a huge component of that has been the drastic shift in transition points. More than one in every four Orange shots this year has been taken in transition and unsettled situations.

This team likes to run and they are fairly good at it. Unlike last year, where it seemed like the seldom few times we did run, no one filled the lanes properly, this year is much better. Everyone knows where they need to be in transition, and it usually leads to an easy layup or a wide open kick out three.

Look for more of the same against Wake Forest. One thing Wake does not do well is play defense, and more specifically three-point defense. They’re 264th in points allowed and 192nd in three-point defense. The Orange should find plenty of open shots both in and out of transition.