As Syracuse’s non-conference slate comes to a close, the Orange gets its third taste of the MACtion this Wednesday against Eastern Michigan. SU has already put away its previous two Mid-American opponents, so if all else goes wrong in ACC play, at least the Orange can hang its hat as theoretical MAC champs if it can pull out a win over the Eagles. All jokes aside, SU cannot afford to sleepwalk through an EMU team that knows its defensive scheme and has hung tough with good teams. Here’s what I’m watching for this Wednesday:
High Powered Offense
The Eagles are the top scoring team in the MAC and top-65 in the nation at 81.4 points per game, which could pose struggles for the Orange if it goes cold. The big advantage SU holds over EMU is that the Eagles struggle immensely in all facets of three point shooting. That’s where the Orange has gotten burned and that is a recipe for upset bids. But the Eagles have plenty of scorers. Four players average double figure points, and three of them are north of 17 points per game.
Syracuse has not had to play against much size over its non-conference slate. However, SU doesn’t just face some height against EMU, it’s facing height with talent. Three of the Eagles top four scorers are six-foot-seven or taller, which is something the Orange has not had to deal with aside from powerhouses like Kansas. We have seen Paschal Chukwu gets bullied by guys who are 6-foot-8, now he is facing a guy in James Thompson IV who is two inches taller and still has the bulk of a guy like Buffalo’s Nick Perkins, who ran through Chukwu despite the Orange’s center holding about half a foot of height over Perkins. Things were surprisingly a little better with Marek Dolezaj patrolling the center spot against St. Bonaventure. The Orange was +9 with Dolezaj at the five during a sample size of about seven minutes. A healthy Bourama Sidibe would help, but that’s no guarantee, especially since his presence is much more important against ACC teams.
The Opposing Sidelines
Syracuse is facing Eastern Michigan for the fourth time in six years, and the man on the other sideline is probably the reason why. Rob Murphy was an assistant under Jim Boeheim from 2004-2011 before taking the EMU head job. Murphy took a thing or two with him to Ypsilanti, most notably the same 2-3 zone that the Orange runs. The Syracuse defense won’t faze the Eagles, and quite frankly, that’s the reason why SU has gotten out to a 10-2 start. The size might cause problems against a team that is familiar with its scheme.
SU needs this rebound game after a tough, hard fought battle against a good St. Bonaventure. A 10-2 start to the non-conference is everything and even more than you could have asked for out of this Syracuse team, but a loss to Eastern Michigan would throw out all signs of hope for the 2017-18 Orange.