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Syracuse basketball: What to Watch for vs. Penn State and Richmond

Another Monday, another basketball doubleheader for the Orange.

Northeastern v Syracuse Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

It’s time to break out the two-screen setup, as both the Syracuse Orange men’s and women’s basketball teams have games tonight at 7. The men’s team travels to Barclays Center to take on the Richmond Spiders, while the women hit the road for the first time this year against Penn State Nittany Lions.

The Spiders are on a two-game skid after winning their first two matchups of the season. Core contributors Tyler Burton and Isaiah Bigelow are joined by freshman Jason Nelson in an effort to get back to the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to Providence in the 2nd Round.

Meanwhile, the Lady Lions have not finished .500 since 2017-18, but are fielding their most-complete team in years. Makenna Marisa. Leilani Kapinus, and Alexa Williamson are all shooting at least 50% through the first four.

Syracuse women’s basketball is looking to begin its season 5-0 for the first time since 2017-2018.

With both teams facing early season tests on the road, here’s what to watch for as Syracuse takes on Penn State and Richmond.

WBB What to Watch For

Dom: Can Syracuse win against its own brand of basketball?

Heading into its matchup against the Lady Lions, Penn State enters the contest with the fourth-best defense in the Big Ten Conference, allowing just 51.3 points per game. In the Orange’s first four wins, the team is averaging 82 points per game.

To be fair to Syracuse, Penn State is allowing the fourth-lowest percentage from three, but the Orange don’t take many threes, focusing instead on getting to the rim and forcing opportunities near the basket. What’s kept ‘Cuse going is the team’s ability to crash the glass and get some second-chance points, even if the final field goal efficiency number doesn’t look pretty.

Monday night is a big day for Syracuse. It’s the team's first real game with legit stakes, especially given it’s the first road game and the Orange’s impressive start. Unlike Syracuse’s first four games, expect this one to come down to the wire.

Mike: State-ment game

Syracuse has a chance to really make some noise against another up-and-coming squad. The Lady Lions are guided by a steady balance of veteran leaders and young talent, and as a fellow 4-0 team, they present the first true challenge for the Orange this season. Penn State hasn’t needed to shoot many threes, but Makenna Marisa has been automatic when she has chances. SU needs to keep her off the perimeter and force their Big Three scorers to take contested shots to come out on top in this one.

Kevin: Handling the road

The Orange haven’t left the Dome yet this season and while the women don’t enjoy a huge home-court advantage, this is the first time the group has traveled. How will they respond to a new venue and unfamiliar surroundings? Since the offense hasn’t relied on outside shooting, the strategy of getting to the paint should be one that fits in the overhead compartment for this one. Beating a P5 team on the road would be a nice boost of confidence for this group.

Christian: Next woman up

We’ve seen how the men work with a big three in Judah Mintz, Joe Girard and Jesse Edwards. The ladies have a big three of their own in Dyaisha Fair, Dariauna Lewis and Teisha Hyman. However, Lewis missed the LIU game and may miss this game against Penn State. So who steps up to be that third scorer? Asia Strong did that against LIU, scoring a season-high 15 points. Saniaa Wilson could be a option as well with two double-digit games this season. Whatever the case, there needs to be someone who supports Fair and Hyman in the scoring department.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stony Brook at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

MBB What to Watch For

Mike: Stay Disciplined

Similar to what I said last time, the Orange cannot afford to take careless fouls in this one. They’ve done well in that category so far, and this is not the team to break their habit against. The Spiders’ forward pair of Burton and Isaiah Bigelow are both shooting 93.3% at the line - really taking advantage of any “free points” sent their way. Some extra patience and self-control could be the difference between an important win and a tight loss we’re looking back at in March.

Dom: Can the team defense keep trending upward?

In its last matchup versus Northeastern, the Orange allowed the Huskies to shoot just 33% from the field and 25% from three. On a similar note, Syracuse’s defense against a Richmond offense that ranks outside of the top 100 in adjustive offensive efficiency per KenPom.

In an early road test for the Orange, expect another strong defensive performance, particularly in preventing many easy shots. As Mike put it, if the defense can stay disciplined and not give in to costly fouls, we could see the beginnings of a defense that can hopefully survive on the court.

Kevin: Control the tempo

Richmond enters the game ranked 302nd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. They are going to want to slow the game down and keep it in the 60s. While Jim Boeheim might prefer that option, this Orange team would be better getting out rather than facing a grinding, half-court game. The Syracuse defense better know where Tyler Burton is at all times - they can’t afford to lose coverage on him like they did with Tucker Richardson last week.

Christian: Well, they know

Syracuse is going to play zone for the rest of the season. What that means is that teams know what’s coming defensively. The disadvantage that the Orange now have with Richmond is that the Spiders just played against a zone defense in Wichita State. Richmond struggled against the Shockers’ zone, scoring only 53 points and shooting under 30% from three. You’d expect the Spiders to trend upwards back to the mean, especially against a weaker and generally smaller zone than Wichita State’s. This will come down to how well Richmond adjusts from its latest loss.