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Syracuse vs. Louisville preview: Five things to watch

Louisville’s long layover concludes as Syracuse to town for the Cards’ first game since Feb. 1.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team could really use a win if they want to upgrade their NCAA Tournament bubble situation, and one at the Louisville Cardinals would certainly help. Like everyone else in the ACC this year, the Cards aren’t necessarily playing to their usual standards, but beating them on the road is a Quad 1 win. So let’s do this. Please?

Before this game gets going on Wednesday night, we preview some of the most important things to watch.

Ajayi: Syracuse fouls

The Orange have to stop sending opposing teams to the free throw line. In the first game gainst NC State they got lucky; The Wolfpack missed 4 free throws and lost by 3. Previously against Virginia, a top ranked team, they only missed TWO free throws. Imagine if Syracuse is in a tight one against Louisville and they keep sending them to the line. Those are more efficient buckets right there. In that game against NC State, the Wolfpack shot 17 free throws and although Virginia only shot 11 free throws against Syracuse, the Orange sent Virginia Tech to the line to shoot 17 times too. If Syracuse can limit this and force opposing teams to beat the zone by shooting a field goal, they’re in for nothing but good things.

Christian: Start fast

Syracuse knows all too well what it feels like to be a team with inadequate practice. The Orange needed time to get back into a basketball rhythm and into basketball shape. You’d expect Louisville to be dealing with those same issues, so the Orange need to capitalize on that. Not only do the Orange need to take advantage of Louisville’s lack of practice, they need to out-run them. Being faster on the first step than the Cardinals is a great way to establish momentum and make Louisville uncomfortable. Syracuse needs to take it to the Cardinals and attack relentlessly early on.

Kevin: Patience on offense

Entering the game, opponents are shooting 29% from 3 against the Cardinals so it will be important for the Orange to exhibit good ball and player movement on offense. Settling for contested 3’s plays into Louisville’s hands as they want to grind out a game. The Cardinals don’t force a lot of turnovers but possessions are going to be valuable in this one so Syracuse needs to be willing to work for good opportunities near the basket.

Szuba: Iced out, no stylist

No, I’m not talking about that snow on Tuesday morning or that ice on your car windshield, folks. I’m talking about Louisville’s outside shooting. As everyone knows, the Cardinals are coming off a pause. Will they struggle to make shots? Chris Mack’s team already doesn’t shoot it well from outside as they’ve only made 83 threes on the season. Can Syracuse keep the Louisville guards on the perimeter against the 2-3 zone and force them into tough outside shots?

John: Get to the line

Louisville doesn’t foul a ton, but their biggest advantage to-date may be the fact that teams are only hitting 66% of free throws against them. Compare that to Syracuse, whose 79% clip is a top-10 rate in the country and it’s easy to see where the Orange may be able to pick up a few points compared to the average Cardinals’ opponent. When SU gets to the line, they usually win — or at least come close. Avoiding too many threes and letting efficient scorers Quincy Guerrier and Marek Dolezaj drive toward the rim is going to be key against this good defense.