Down, but not out. That’s the state of the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team right now.
Entering its matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini (5-1), the Orange (3-3) will be the clear underdogs on the road. Syracuse will look to avoid three straight losses on the season before it kicks off ACC play against Notre Dame on Saturday, while Illinois is coming off a 33-point victory against Lindenwood. An SU upset would easily be their biggest resume booster in out-of-conference play.
With all of that in mind, here are our predictions against Illinois:
Illinois 80, Syracuse 63
It’s a stark outlook, but after a tough team performance against Bryant, it’s hard to see much upside against Illinois. The Bulldogs struggled on the stat sheet to score against Syracuse's defense, but Bryant was getting great looks for most of the game before the Orange stormed back. Illinois’ defense will be a tall order to score against, and too many of the Orange’s youngsters don’t have the reps yet under their belts to go in a tough environment on the road and secure the win. The biggest deciding factor will be the threes: Syracuse is allowing opponents to shoot the third-highest percentage from behind the line in the ACC on high volume, while Illinois enters the contest with the third-best three-point percentage in the Big Ten.
Illinois 81, Syracuse 69
It would be such a Syracuse thing to do to go 3-3 with losses to Colgate and Bryant only to turn around to beat a ranked team on its home floor. But as tempting as it is to pick the Orange here, it’s hard to look past this Illinois offense that averages 84.7 points per game. It doesn’t require much imagination to conceptualize Terrence Shannon Jr. shredding the zone. Nor is it hard to envision a world where Jesse Edwards gets into foul trouble. With Mounir Hima’s status up in the air, Dain Dainja and Coleman Hawkins represent a significant problem down low. Syracuse is in Dainja! *Shows self out*
Syracuse 80, Illinois 77
Yes it would be such a Syracuse thing to beat the No. 16 team in the country on their own court. Which is why I’m actually predicting that to happen. This can be the Judah Mintz game: the game that really defines why he is such a pivotal part of this team and a major recruit to have brought in. We all know he messed up getting himself tossed against Bryant - pretty much the definition of a rookie mistake. Well, he won’t make that mistake again. Mintz makes up for lost time and, in a tribute to G-Mac, rains down shots from all over the court to the tune of a nostalgia-inducing upset and the accompanying Jon Rothstein tweet.
Illinois 75, Syracuse 68
The Illini are shooting 50.8% from the field early in the season. They are averaging 16.5 assists per game and Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer (who I advocated for Syracuse to recruit) is shooting a career-worst 32.5% from the floor. This means Mayer is due to break out tonight and finally hit more than 2 3’s in a game. With the status of Syracuse players Benny Williams and Mounir Hima unknown, Jesse Edwards has to stay on the floor tonight for Syracuse to have a chance. Last week we learned that Syracuse has some freshmen who aren’t afraid of the moment, but also that the Orange have no idea how these pieces fit together yet. This is not a game where that sort of experiment will work and eventually Illinois wears down the defense and gets to the rim where they excel.
Illinois 78, Syracuse 60
Say what you will about Syracuse’s defense, but with the exception of the Colgate game, I actually think the Orange have held opponents to reasonable scores. The Syracuse offense, on the other hand, hasn’t held up their end of the bargain. With Joe Girard continuing to struggle and Jesse Edwards continuing to sit on the bench with fouls, the Orange need other scoring outlets fast. Can Judah Mintz avoid trying to play hero isolation ball on over half of his possessions and balance the scoring out? We’ve seen what Justin Taylor and Chris Bell can do when given the chance. Until the ball moves around more, the Orange offense is what’s going to lead Syracuse to another doomed season.
Now it’s your turn:
Who wins the game between Syracuse and Illinois?
This poll is closed
Illinois and the Orange hope for an NIT invite
Syracuse and the Orange are going to the Sweet Sixteen