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Syracuse women’s basketball: what to watch for versus Alabama

Bring on the Crimson Tide.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

No, this isn’t a typo. Yes, the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (5-1) is bracing for a Thursday night matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1).

In what is the first-ever matchup between both programs, Syracuse is looking to continue building some momentum after a clean 2-0 sweep in Las Vegas as part of the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout. Similar to the Orange’s early-season matchup versus Maryland, Alabama is another program with NCAA Tournament aspirations Syracuse is hoping to beat to improve its resume.

The matchup between Syracuse and Alabama is one of 14 games that are part of the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.

Alabama finished 20-11 overall and 9-7 against the SEC last season, clinching a spot in last season’s tournament. The Crimson Tide are currently projected to be an eighth seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament per ESPN’s latest bracketology update and received some votes in the most recent AP poll.

Tip-off between the Orange and Crimson Tide is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST in the JMA Wireless Dome. The game will also be streamed on the ACC Network.

Here’s what to watch for:

Playing to a strength

Take a look at the stat sheet at the end of this preview: the numbers are practically identical when you compare Syracuse and Alabama. Well, almost.

Ironically, the major flaw for this current version of the Crimson Tide (playmaking and ball-handling) happens to play into one of the Orange’s notable strengths: forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. Alabama has the second-fewest assists per game and third-most turnovers in the SEC.

Alabama does fare well on the glass which allows for easy second-chance looks. While the Orange can only do so much to limit the Crimson Tide in the paint, they can limit those scoring opportunities in the first place by taking advantage of Alabama’s limited playmaking.

What version of Fair are we getting?

In Las Vegas, Dyaisha fair scored a season-low nine points versus Northern Iowa followed by a season-high 29 points the next day against Iowa State. Clearly, opponents are playing more aggressive on Fair and daring her to either a) take more difficult shots or b) force the rest of the Orange to put up points.

Alabama boasts the size and physicality to press on Fair and take her out of her comfort zone. Against Northern Iowa, she took a backseat to Georgia Woolley, but then shot the lights out against the Cyclones.

In a game where Syracuse will need every point possible, Fair has got to pick her spots and keep the Orange’s offense flowing.

Avoiding déjà vu

The Alabama game is the Orange’s last chance to grab a resume-boosting non-conference win before ACC play kicks off at the end of December. Syracuse’s other non-con opponents include Northeastern, Ohio, Cornell and Saint Francis (PA), none of which are at the same standing or talent level as the Crimson Tide.

Syracuse finished 15-3 at home in 2022-2023, and two of those home wins (against Miami and North Carolina) proved to be foundation to the team being on the bubble of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Orange held on versus an experienced, successful Maryland program on the road; playing a team with similar-ish talent like the Crimson Tide at home is a blessing.

Here’s to hoping Syracuse can maximize that opportunity.

Syracuse versus Alabama preview by the numbers

All-time: This will be the first time ever that both programs will face off against each other.

Last matchup: N/A

Win/loss implications: A win handily gives the Orange its most impressive win of the season. A loss wouldn’t be the worst of news, but it would mean that Syracuse will need to sweep the rest of its non-conference slate to be sitting in a comfortable spot moving forward.

Prediction: It pains me to say this, but I’ll say Alabama’s size and defense prevents Syracuse from getting much momentum. I’ve got the Orange falling just short in a 75-71 loss at home. I’m hoping Syracuse proves me wrong.

Syracuse vs. Alabama Team Stats

Statistical Categories Syracuse Alabama
Statistical Categories Syracuse Alabama
PPG 81.5 74.8
Opponent PPG 57.8 50.1
Margin of Victory plus-23.7 plus-24.7
FG% 46% 45%
Defensive FG% 36% 35%
3FG% 32% 30%
Defensive 3FG% 28% 26%
FT% 71% 68%
RPG 44.3 40
APG 14.7 10.5
T/O 12.8 14.9
A/T ratio 1.1 0.7
SPG 9.3 10.3
BPG 5.8 3.1