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Can Syracuse’s size slow down UNC’s Luke Maye?

North Carolina’s Luke Maye is one of the best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He is fourth in the ACC at 18.4 points per game, leads the conference with 294 rebounds, and is the driving force of the Tar Heels. He has explosive potential, scoring 33 points with 17 rebounds against NC State just more than a week ago. Saturday, he dropped 19 points and 13 rebounds in a road win over Louisville.

The only column Luke Maye doesn’t fill on the stat sheet is height. Listed at just 6-8, he doesn’t look like he should be leading the ACC in rebounding when he stands next to some of the seven-footers the conference has to offer. Syracuse is the tallest of those teams, and the Orange’s size could help SU contain Maye and pull of an upset in the Dome.

Maye has the consistency to make an impact in every game he plays, but his biggest breakouts have come against smaller teams. Two of Maye’s biggest performances this season were against the same team: the NC State Wolfpack. Along with the 33-point, 17-rebound game above, he also scored 31 points and pulled in 12 rebounds against NC State January 27. The Wolfpack is a small team, with its biggest minutes going to 6-3 Allerik Freeman, 6-0 Braxton Beverly and 6-1 Markell Johnson. Omer Yurtseven stands at 7-0, but plays less than 25 minutes per game. Maye does most of his work inside the three-point arc, and a size advantage over his defender helped him dominate. Maye took 19 and 17 two-point shots in those two games, his two highest totals of the season.

Against Florida State, one of the only ACC teams with size comparable to Syracuse, Maye didn’t have the same size advantage. The Seminoles start 6-6 Terance Mann and Braian Angola along with 6-8 Phil Cofer. They also rotate between 7-0 Ike Obiagu and 7-4 Chris Koumadje, who scored 23 points against Syracuse in January. Maye couldn’t find his rhythm against that size, and made just four of 10 shots inside. He scored 14 points and got six rebounds, and North Carolina lost as it does on most of Maye’s off nights. Maye scores more than 19 points per game in UNC wins, but five points less in losses. He also gets two more rebounds in wins. The team goes as Maye goes, and Maye’s presence has been less dominant in games against bigger teams.

In recent seasons, players like Luke Maye have run over Syracuse when the Tar Heels meet the Orange. Last season, 6-9 Kennedy Meeks scored 15 points with 12 rebounds, and 6-8 Justin Jackson added 19 points and 10 boards. The year before, Brice Johnson averaged nearly a double-double in two games against the Orange. It hasn’t taken size for UNC to beat the Orange before, but Syracuse hasn’t played this big in years. If it can use the 2-3 zone to slow Maye’s production, SU could run with North Carolina.

Posted: Nathan Dickinson

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