For the first time in just under three years, the #25 Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team (11-1, 1-0) will enter its upcoming Thursday night game versus the North Carolina Tar Heels (9-4, 1-0) as an AP top 25 program.
Following the Orange’s stunning 86-81 home win against #16 Notre Dame, ‘Cuse women’s hoops is back as Syracuse travels down to Chapel Hill for its second ACC game of the season. Like the Notre Dame game, the matchup will be a tough early-season test against a UNC team that sits as the first team out on the latest AP poll.
North Carolina enters Thursday’s contest on a five-game win streak, including back-to-back victories over Oklahoma and Clemson, since falling short of an upset to #1 South Carolina. UNC finished 22-11 (11-7 against the ACC) last season, losing in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Can the Orange keep up their hot streak against the Tar Heels?
Here’s what to watch for:
Sustaining the offense
North Carolina doesn’t boast the same scoring punch that an elite Notre Dame offense had, but it does possess a similar level of elite defense. The Tar Heels allow its opponents to score roughly 57 points per game, which is currently a top 60 mark in the NCAAW.
What do you stand for?— 'Cuse Hoops (@CuseWBB) January 2, 2024
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Obviously, Syracuse itself possesses one of the best scoring offenses in the country (currently 26th-best). Dyaisha Fair and Alyssa Latham hit some tough shots down the stretch to keep the Orange out in front and halt any effort at a comeback from Notre Dame. The Orange’s offense will face a similar test against an experienced and tough defensive Tar Heels team.
Support for Fair
We mentioned the Fair-Latham scoring combo and their success against the Fighting Irish. Latham has shown in the past few games that she is a legitimate two-way force and has really had success in particular with finishing around the rim and extending defenders out with her jumper.
Latham could obviously repeat that same production against UNC, but because of the Tar Heels’ defense, it isn’t necessarily guaranteed. Whether its her, Georgia Woolley or someone else, there needs to be a second legit scorer for Syracuse that can step up if Fair has another big-time performance.
Poise down the stretch
Part of how successful Syracuse can be this season will rely on how clutch the team can be down the stretch. That was clear against the Fighting Irish, especially with the Orange outscoring Notre Dame in the fourth quarter. The lack of being able to finish games late also doomed the Orange last year. It hasn’t been the case so far, and that will need to continue if Syracuse plans to escape Chapel Hill with another Q1 victory.
Syracuse versus North Carolina preview by the numbers
All-time: Syracuse is 9-5 all-time versus North Carolina dating back to 2001, but it is 9-3 against UNC since joining the ACC. Both teams have split the last four games against each other, and Syracuse last beat the Tar Heels on the road during the 2019-2020 season.
Last matchup: In one of the program’s most notable statement wins last year, the Orange defeated a then-ranked Tar Heels team 75-67 at home for the program’s first win against an AP top 25 opponent in the Felisha Legette-Jack era.
Win/loss implications: A win extends the Orange’s win streak to nine games and moves Syracuse to 4-1 against Q1 opponents, while a loss would bring what’s been a crazy start for the Orange to a temporary halt.
Prediction: Syracuse’s offense has been scorching hot the past few weeks, but UNC will have the home crowd at its side and a stellar defense. I think this might be the game where the Orange’s scoring punch isn’t as strong as its been, so I’ve got Syracuse just barely losing 76-68 on the road.
Syracuse vs. North Carolina Team Stats
|Margin of Victory