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Syracuse women’s basketball: what to watch for vs. Columbia University

The Orange are dancing their way into NYC

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 12 Women’s Syracuse at Boston College Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (20-12, 9-9) continues its dance into the Round of 16 of the 2023 Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The Orange advanced by first beating Kent State at home by 28 points and then scoring a dominant 72-52 road win over Seton Hall.

Now, Syracuse heads down the Thruway from upstate to Manhattan in another road battle, this time against the Columbia Lions (25-5, 12-2). The Lions finished first in the regular season of the Ivy League but placed just outside of the final bracket for the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Columbia is a tough road environment, with the Lions sitting at an 11-2 record at home this season. Syracuse is coming off one of its better road performances against Seton Hall, but this battle of New York pride will definitely come down to the wire.

Tip-off between Syracuse and Columbia is at 7 p.m. EST in Levien Gymnasium, with the game also available for streaming on ESPN+. The winner will face Harvard, who defeated Rhode Island, in the Great Eight.

Here’s what to watch for between the Orange and the Lions in the first-ever matchup between both programs:

Question #1: Will the Orange’s defense shine yet again?

In back-to-back games, Syracuse’s offense held steady, but it was the defense that made the difference against Kent State and Seton Hall. That included superb perimeter defense, forced turnovers, and tough shot attempts against both opponents, especially against Seton Hall. Now, the Orange face another high-octane offense as Columbia averages 78.6 points per game this season.

We’ll need to see if Syracuse can make it three games in a row where the defense looks nearly perfect.

Question #2: What’s the biggest x-factor against the Lions?

I’ll have to go with rebounding just because Columbia ranks first in the Ivy League in both offensive and defensive rebounding (13th and 32nd in the nation, respectively), More importantly, especially on defense, Syracuse can’t afford defensive stops to convert into free second-chance opportunities and free throw trips for Columbia.

Dariauna Lewis will have her solid moments on the defensive glass, but Syracuse will need help from guards like Teisha Hyman and Georgia Woolley. Each might need to secure 5-7 rebounds each to counter Columbia’s frontcourt.

Question #3: If Syracuse wins, what comes next?

My take: I personally think the winner of this game can easily beat Harvard and earn a spot in the WNIT Final Four. Both Columbia (47th in NET ranking) and Syracuse (57th in NET ranking) finished far better than Harvard (78th in NET ranking). If so, that means the winner of this game will have a more favorable matchup in the next one.

Even with the progress made so far this season, a Final Four berth in coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s first season sounds like a thing of beauty. It would greatly put some national respect on the program and be a big talking point once players are available to transfer to other institutions. I’m running before I can walk here, but this is a golden chance for the Orange.

Now, it’s up to ‘Cuse to cash it in.