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Syracuse vs. NC State preview: Five things to watch

Hopefully we’re watching a win too, of course...

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s hope the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has put Saturday’s disaster behind them at this point, because they’ll need to bounce back quickly against fellow bubble longshot, the N.C. State Wolfpack. SU just beat the Pack a week and a half ago, and now they’ll have to do the same here again on the road if we’re (realistically) expecting to stay in NCAA Tournament contention.

Before the game starts at the strange time of 6:30 p.m. ET on ACC Network tonight, we preview some of the key storylines and stats worth following.

Ajayi: Getting back to business

The offense wasn’t there at all last game. To make things even harder for the Orange, the team now needs to find their rhythm amidst the return of Bourama Sidibe. All season Syracuse was used to playing without a reliable big man. They often had the 5 position given to a player that could stretch the floor such as Quincy Guerrier, Marek Dolezaj, or even at times Robert Braswell. Sidibe can’t stretch the floor at all. Although we can say this about Sidibe, he does provide harder screens, a player to lob or pass to off the pick and roll, and a couple buckets out of the post. What we all missed from him though for sure was his defense. That’s irreplaceable with this roster. Be on the lookout on how the long time Orange big man will fit back in to what the team already had going on before him returning.

Christian: Hard-nosed

No, I’m not suggesting that Syracuse turns to Scott Shafer for a game plan. What I am suggesting is that the Orange need to be physical. The only way that Syracuse is going to find consistency in its offense this year is by dominating the paint, as we’ve said throughout the season. The reason that Syracuse wasn’t effective underneath the rim is because they didn’t expect Clemson to be so physical. The Orange know what to expect from NC State. They can’t afford to underestimate the paint toughness that the Wolfpack have, especially with D.J. Funderburk reportedly back for NC State. Aggressiveness in the paint is what allowed Syracuse to complete its comeback against the Wolfpack nine days ago, and the Orange cannot be efficient in that area of the game if the same lack of toughness was shown during the Clemson game.

Kevin: Can this team give a solid effort one play at a time?

Tonight’s game isn’t going to decide Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament fate so can the Orange remain calm when things aren’t going their way. It seems as though the effort on the defensive end is directly related to what players are doing on the offensive end. If shots aren’t falling, Syracuse needs to dig on defense and get the ball back. We know this isn’t a strong rebounding team but all five players have to make an effort to get on the glass and get the ball.

Szuba: Not so Funderburk

Syracuse dodged a bullet in the first meeting as DJ Funderburk was held out of competition. The Orange will have no such luck this time around and that could be a major problem for a team that struggles to rebound and defend the interior. NC State front-court players Jericole Hellems and Manny Bates worked Syracuse inside last game to the tune of 41 points and 23 rebounds. Add the 6-foot-10, 225 lb. Funderburk to that equation and you don’t have to be Jim Boeheim to figure out what’s bound to happen.

John: Hold onto the ball

Syracuse isn’t necessarily a turnover-prone team (just 15.7% of possessions this season), but NC State’s one of the best teams in the country in terms of turning teams over at 23,3%. The Pack also score nearly 19 points per game off of turnovers.. Given the tight margin expected in this one, it could very well come down to a steal or two. Luckily, the Orange happen to be one of the best teams in the country at forcing steals. Their 12.5% steal percentage is 10th overall — just a few spots behind State (12.9%).