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Syracuse men’s basketball: what to watch for vs North Carolina

Another Q1 opportunity for the Orange lies in Chapel Hill.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (11-4, 2-2) hit the road tomorrow to take on the #7 North Carolina Tar Heels (12-3, 4-0) at Noon on ESPN. UNC has been rolling as of late so here’s what we’re watching for:

Kevin: Shot selection

There is nothing wrong with the effort from this Orange squad. We know they are going to compete with UNC, but can they be smart in the half-court offense? UNC has held their last three opponents under 60 points and ranks 8th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Syracuse has to avoid the wasted dribbling and settling for contested jumpers to have a chance at the upset. The addition of Maliq Brown to the starting line-up gives the Orange one player who will dive to the rim for an open pass, but other Syracuse players need to move more without the ball to create spacing.

Mike: Welcome to the Space Jam?

Adrian Autry tweaked his starting lineup for the first time on Wednesday - partially due to injury, and partially by enforcing a penalty on Judah Mintz. The different five-man look confused BC's shooters, but it wasn't quite as successful on the offensive end. Red could modify that approach by keeping Justin Taylor on the bench to and having Quadir Copeland in his place instead. JT just hasn't been producing and this kind of game is one SU will never win if they fall behind early. Go with your best five scorers for as long as possible, let them create space for one another, and see what kind of magic they can make on the glass together.

Dom: Reduce the freebies

This is very much like the Duke game in the sense that Syracuse will play in a tough road environment against an experienced group known mainly for its all-around defense and ability to just turn a game into a blowout at any moment. The Tar Heels continue to play like their the best team in the ACC, and what worked very well against Boston College might not work this time around. Syracuse only turned the ball over eight times compared to 22 turnovers from BC, and the Orange had 17 games combined as a team. Can the Orange successful take care of the ball and get out in transition versus North Carolina as much as they did against BC?

Max: Play a full 40 minutes on the road

Time and time again, we’ve seen Syracuse battle hard in hostile environments for the first half... then the wheels fall off in the second. It won’t be any easier down in Chapel Hill against a UNC team that’s one of the most experienced in the nation. Judah Mintz will bring his A game, but the Orange will need a lot more consistency to have a chance in this one. The only flaw in the Tar Heels’ game is a lack of turnovers forced on defense, so protecting the rock the entire game is a necessity.

Szuba: The Armando Bacot and RJ Davis problem

Within the matchups for this game, who will Syracuse decide to utilize when defending Bacot and Davis? It will probably look a lot like Brown on Bacot, but this is a tough game to not have the 7-foot-4 Naheem McLeod for. Brown will probably front Bacot and be in need of weak side help on lobbed post-feeds and he’ll also have to stay out of foul trouble. Autry hinted at playing smaller without McLeod by mentioning Benny Williams and Peter Carey at the five, but Mounir Hima’s height and length seems the best option to disrupt Bacot’s strength down low.

As for Davis, I’m not sure one player can guard him for 40 minutes. It might look like Starling’s assignment to draw first, but Copeland and Kyle Cuffe might also see time guarding the All-ACC and Wooden Award candidate. Help defense is going to be critical and Syracuse will need to slow these two guys to even have a chance at an upset.


Now it’s your turn, what are you watching for tomorrow afternoon