We don’t need to add much additional color here. The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is reeling after two straight losses and pretty much needs to win out if they have any shot of making the NCAA Tournament. Facing the North Carolina Tar Heels makes that task tougher — though also presents an opportunity to start building a stronger resume for inclusion in the field.
In advance of the game, tipping off on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, we preview the most important things to watch.
Christian: Give me a hand
Remember back towards the start of the season when James noted a stat that showed that Syracuse was one of the best assisting teams in the country? In the last two Orange losses, Syracuse is only assisting 39% of its field goals. There isn’t enough consistency in Syracuse’s isolation ball to get baskets, and with UNC’s massive rebounding advantage, the Orange can’t afford many one-and-done chances.
Kevin: Turnover time
Let’s not pretend that Syracuse is going to be able to keep up on the boards but one way to slow down UNC will be to turn up the pressure defense. The Tar Heels commit the most turnovers in the ACC and one way to stop them from getting offensive rebounds is to keep them from getting shots up in the first place. Syracuse doesn’t need to wait to get behind by double digits to implement some full-court pressure against a team that doesn’t handle the ball well.
Szuba: Center time
Despite being undersized and playing out of position, Marek Dolezaj has only fouled out once this season. He’s picked up four or more fouls in only five games. Can he stay out of foul trouble against North Carolina’s four bigs? Although he had a few miscues in the second half, Jesse Edwards provided solid minutes at Georgia Tech. Maybe this is the kind of game where he sees extended time.
John: Push North Carolina to the perimeter
Easier said than done given UNC’s size, of course. But if Syracuse can get the Heels to try to beat them from outside, that’s how they stay in this contest. North Carolina was just 5-of-24 from three vs. Syracuse last go-around, and is shooting just 30.9% from beyond the arc this year (292nd in the country). They don’t rely heavily on that shot for a reason. If SU’s zone can bleed the clock and keep the ball out of the paint (again, not necessarily banking on this occurring — but it would be ideal), it could make things interesting.