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Syracuse vs. Clemson preview: Five things to watch

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The Orange are back on the court on Saturday after an unplanned five days off.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

You were all set to watch the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team take on Louisville on Wednesday and then... that didn’t happen. So now, after a couple more days off, SU goes on the road to face the Clemson Tigers instead. Clemson’s in better shape than the Orange this season, but really, the difference between most ACC squads this year is pretty slim.

Before the game gets going between Syracuse and the Tigers at 2 p.m. ET on ACC Network this Saturday, we preview some of the key things worth paying attention to.

Ajayi: ACC separation

Clemson and Syracuse are almost identical in the standings. One thing we know about this Clemson team is that they can really rebound the ball well even with Bourama Sidibe out there for Syracuse. Last year, the Tigers won by 1 against the Orange and a big part of that was because of their rebounding. The squad turned over the ball 16 times and yet still won! If Syracuse wants to win this game they just have to outhustle the Tigers and make them work on every offensive possession. Along with that, they’ll have to catch fire from behind the arc. This can’t be one of those games where they just can’t buy one from deep because they’ll easily fall out of contention in this game if that happens

Kevin: Stay one step ahead of Vice Principal Brownell

Clemson wants to play at a slow tempo and rely on their defense to win. Despite giving up more than 78 points in three of their last five games, opponents are only averaging 62.4 points against the Tigers for the season. Syracuse needs to rebound and push the ball to try and get into their offense before Clemson can set up. If the Orange can force this game to be played in the 70s they stand a better chance of grabbing a big road win.

Christian: If it works against you, try it against them

Let’s look at Syracuse’s last two games against Virginia and NC State. Syracuse’s offense looked awful against tight pressure from opposing defenders that were honed in on face-guarding Orange ball handlers. Admittedly, this is hard to do in a zone, but Syracuse’s guards can afford to play tight against Clemson’s shooters. The Tigers are last in the ACC in field goal percentage and 11th in the conference in assists. It would behoove the Orange to make Clemson’s shooters uncomfortable.

Szuba: Sidibe’s return?

Syracuse was hopeful to get Bourama Sidibe back for Wedneday’s (postponed) game against Louisville. With a few more days of recovery, do we see the senior big man for the first time since the season opener? If Sidibe makes a return to the court against Clemson don’t expect him to log heavy minutes right away. There will be rust to shake off. But if the Orange can get its center back that’d be a tailwind for a team in dire need of an anchor in the 2-3 zone.

*shows self out*

John: Test Clemson’s perimeter defense without going all-in on threes

Syracuse has shown restraint here and there while shooting the ball from outside, but not consistently — which is one of the bigger issues for this offense, since they’re only hitting 31.7% of their shots from beyond the arc. Against the Tigers, the ideal approach is to exploit some questionable perimeter defense (allowing 34.7% from three) and create space inside at the same time. Clemson’s allowing opposing teams to hit over 40% of shots from the corners and baseline and nearly 68% at the rim. There’s an opportunity here that directly plays into SU’s strengths... if they can embrace some moderation.