With just a single game left in the regular season, the Syracuse Orange come into Saturday’s game off an impressive 13-point win over the Boston College Eagles. That game, like many this season for SU, started slow, but finished at a furious pace.
At the heart of it were Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim, who combined for 49 points and six three-pointers. The offense was impressive for those final 22+ minutes. The defense on the other hand... we’ll get into that in just a second.
First, here’s what to watch for when Syracuse takes on Miami on Saturday.
1. Can Sidibe continue his great play?
The past four games for Bourama Sidibe have been by far the best in his career at Syracuse. He’s averaging 11.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 2.8 steals per game. Those numbers are incredibly impressive, and it includes 17 points and 15 rebounds against North Carolina, one of the most physically dominant teams we’ve faced.
Bourama Sidibe didn’t look like an inferior player against UNC’s bigs. He was simply outnumbered. But he played tough and he proved that he absolutely can be a force in the middle for the Orange.
The big question is, can he keep himself out of foul trouble? The entire reason he’s looked so impressive lately is because he’s been able to stay in the game. He’s played 28.5 minutes per game, five above his season average. It’s allowed him to be a bit more aggressive and physical, because he hasn’t always been in foul trouble early.
If he can find a way to stay out of foul trouble against the Hurricanes, he could have another huge game.
2. Putrid perimeter defense
Once again the perimeter defense was a massive issue for the Orange against Boston College.
19 threes. N-I-N-E-T-E-E-N.
While BC hit six threes down the stretch with Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard on the bench, Syracuse’s starting guards both struggled on the defensive end. Girard left much to be desired on the offensive end but Boeheim made shots throughout the game. But the top of the 2-3 zone was a problem.
Both Brycen Goodine and Howard Washington also left wide open shooters on multiple possessions for Boston College. Syracuse will have to tighten up the defense against Miami. The Hurricanes have plenty of skill on the perimeter.
3. Isolation innovation
I think this year’s trio of Elijah Hughes, Joe Girard, and Buddy Boeheim are better in isolation than last year’s trio of Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett (#hottake). In fact, I think all three this year are individually better than their counterpart from last year.
Girard vs. Howard might be the closest, because neither have been the most consistent, but both occasionally show flashes of brilliance. Joe is just a bit more consistently brilliant in isolation from what I’ve seen.
But whether you agree with me or think I’m crazy, that’s not the point. The point is that Jim Boeheim has transformed this team to an isolate-the-mismatch group that is always looking to exploit the weakest defensive link.
Even Marek Dolezaj has gotten into the act in isolation when he’s had a favorable matchup. Look for plenty of isolation opportunities for all four of them against Miami.
4. Mid-range mayhem
If Chis Lykes should ever match-up against Elijah Hughes or Buddy Boeheim defensively, you will see two of the better mid-range players in all of college basketball. Both have mastered the art of the mid-range in their own way, and it’s quite beautiful to watch. Seeing either one get the ball and get into the lane, I’ve almost come to expect a made basket. I’m more surprised when either of them miss than when they make it.
Buddy’s stroke is pure. Almost all of his mid-range shots barely graze the net.
And then there’s Hughes. Elijah is absolutely sensational in the mid-range. Against a smaller player he will post up, back down his defender, or just shoot over them. Against bigger players, he will beat them off the dribble, or hit the step back jumper straight over them. From inside of 20 feet, Hughes is as deadly as they come. Look for Hughes and Boeheim to continue their strong play from mid-range against Miami.
5. Finishing strong
Even though the game doesn’t really matter, if the Orange can beat the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday, they will have finished 4-2 in their last six games, their best mark since joining the ACC in 2014.
Not so fun fact (wrong thread I know): Syracuse has finished every single ACC season 2-4 (or worse, 1-5 in 2016) since joining in the 2014-15 season. But Syracuse has already bucked that trend this year, regardless of Saturday’s outcome.