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Syracuse vs. West Virginia NCAA Tournament preview: Four things to watch

America’s about to hate Buddy Boeheim for eternity, aren’t they?

Syracuse v San Diego State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Hello, old friend foe! After years away from one another, the Syracuse Orange and West Virginia Mountaineers men’s basketball teams will meet on the court. This time, though, it’s in the NCAA Tournament. WVU comes into this game as the favorite, with a 3-seed and a comfortable win over Morehead State. Syracuse has its usual double-digit seed dark magic, Buddy Boeheim and a five-game winning streak over the ‘Eers.

Before this game tips off at 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS, let’s dive into some of the things you should be looking out for.

Christian: Jesse Edwards

Syracuse survived one test with its zone against San Diego State. The next test comes with a West Virginia team that has multiple offensive options at different positions. Syracuse is slowly starting to tighten up its perimeter defense, which when it works, limits the effectiveness that players such as Sam Hauser and Jordan Schakel have on the game. And while the Orange might have a game plan for Miles McBride, there might not be a solid plan when Derek Culver gets his hands on the ball.

At 6-foot-10, 255 lbs., you’d probably expect Culver to overpower Marek Dolezaj in the paint, especially when the Mountaineers have the ball. We know that Jesse Edwards has performed better as of later against tough competition underneath the basket. Does Jim Boeheim trust the still-developing Dutchman to play a big factor once again? I think Edwards can help Syracuse limit WVU’s effectiveness in the paint, but it’s up to Boeheim to make that change.

John: Offensive rebounds

This has been an issue for Syracuse all season, and even in a game where they dominated vs. San Diego State, they still allowed 15 offensive boards. That’s likely a much larger problem vs. West Virginia, a team with more size inside and an ability to finish on those second-chance opportunities. The ‘Eers are a top-15 team by offensive rebounding percentage, while SU’s one of the worst teams in the country at allowing them to occur. In a game that’s very likely to be closer than Friday’s was, a few easy putbacks could wind up making all the difference. They also could cause some foul trouble... never a good thing, even if there’s increasing faith in Jesse Edwards at center.

Szuba: Locating Sean McNeil

Everyone will talking about these two teams’ defense, yet oddly, both of these teams rely on their offense to get the job done. West Virginia doesn’t press a whole lot this year. On the other side, the 2-3 zone hasn’t been great but Jim Boeheim has it buttoned up in March. All this to say, the Mountaineers don’t take a ton of 3s so since John already touched on the rebounding aspect, I’m going to say a major key will be limiting the deep threat in Sean McNeil. He has potential to get double-digit attempts from range in this game, so locating him within the zone will be important. McNeil has taken 165 threes on the season (making 37.6%). Only two other Mountaineers have over 100 attempts from deep.

Kevin: Efficient Offense

The entire world was talking about the Syracuse zone but the Orange offense had one of their most efficient games of the season against San Diego State. No one expects Syracuse to shoot over 50% from 3 every night but what they can do is continue to work for good shots. Over the last couple of weeks Syracuse has moved from isolation plays to using more screens and better spacing to get favorable match-ups. West Virginia is a better offensive team so Syracuse should find good spots if they continue to be patient.