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Syracuse men’s basketball: what to watch for vs Clemson

Guess who’s back...back again

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (15-8, 6-6) welcome a familiar face, and Joe Girard, back to the Dome when Brad Brownell and his Clemson Tigers (15-7, 5-6) visit. The Tigers are coming off a big road win at UNC, but everyone is focused on JG3’s return to the 315. Tip-off is at 12:00 on ESPN2 and here’s what we’re watching for:

Kevin: Autry Adaptation

Syracuse broke out the 2-3 zone against Louisville and it looked pretty bad. I don’t think they can play this defense against Clemson because the trio of Girard, PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin would have a field day. Not that any defense is going to slow down this group, but I’d like to see Adrian Autry make the Tigers uncomfortable. Throw on some full-court press. Play some man. Go to a triangle and two against Girard and Hall. The Tigers are going to be tough to keep off the offensive glass, so I think Syracuse needs to turn it into a chaotic game and hope for the best.

Max: Keep Joe Cool

Joe Girard is putting together a dominant season down in Death Valley, posting career-highs in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, blocks and turnovers. However, as we all know, he can be very streaky. The former Orangeman drilled nine threes over his last two contests, but only made eight in the four games before that. The Tigers have a handful of players that can beat you, so keeping Girard at bay needs to be of high priority for Autry’s squad.

Finn: Has Chris Bell found his footing?

The Syracuse defense was woefully unconvincing on Wednesday night, allowing 92 to a Louisville team that only averages around 74 per game. Of course, the highlight of that game was Chris Bell, who kept the Orange afloat with his 30-point contribution. Now, I don't expect Bell to average 25 or even 20 points per game, but if he can maintain his tempo from Wednesday, it will be critical in keeping pace with a rampant Tigers offense that has eclipsed 90 points on five occasions this season. With the Orange’s deficiencies in depth and defense, they will need as many minutes and buckets from Bell as possible.

Szuba: Rebounds and turnovers

Well, someone has to belabor the point. Syracuse has been hemorrhaging rebounds recently — the Orange has been out-rebounded by double digits in each of its last three. Clemson is fourth in the ACC is rebounding margin at +3.9 while the Orange is dead last at -3.1. Syracuse will certainly lose the rebounding battle Saturday but if it can apply a tourniquet and keep the margin to single digits it will have a chance to win. Meantime, Syracuse is second in the league in steals and fourth in turnover margin while Clemson is 14th and 11th, respectively. That will be one component within the game Syracuse has to win regardless of whether it plays man or zone.

Dom: Is the offense sustainable?

Bell’s outside shooting made all the difference in the Orange’s close win at home to Louisville, but the key takeaway from that was Syracuse barely won despite scoring 94 points versus the Cardinals. The Orange are going to continue to be vulnerable particularly with offensive rebounding and paint scoring given their lack of size, and a Louisville offense that ranked toward the very bottom in the ACC in scoring had its way versus Syracuse. If defense is going to be hard to come by, is it realistic for Syracuse’s offense to continue just outscoring teams like Clemson?

Mike: Don’t go off the Cuffe

Kyle Cuffe didn't see the floor at all during Wednesday night's game, and while Red doesn't exactly have many options at this point, his six-man rotation (with 5 minutes of Peter Carey added in) is not sustainable. SU's starters are going to be gassed and unable to get back against a very good shooting team - unless they are willing to go small in stretches and have Cuffe match up against Girard. Let him take a couple deep shots to complement Bell.

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