Well who would have thought we would even be having this conversation at this point in the season. After catastrophic losses to Notre Dame and NC State at home and on the road to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, there is still life in the Orange’s season. A huge road win over Miami has infused life into the fanbase that the tournament may be in reach after a disappointing 2017 campaign.
Now, the remaining schedule looks freakishly scary. The final four games consist of three top 15 teams and a road game against Boston College, who has dominated its competition at the Conte Forum to the tune of a 13-3 record. But while the remaining slate looks daunting, the same could be said about Syracuse’s road matchup with a fringe top-25 Miami team. At this point with college basketball, throw out anything you know because craziness strikes on a nightly basis.
For Syracuse to really put a gold star on its resume, it will have to beat a ranked team, which it has failed to do this season in its four attempts. But with three more outstanding opportunities, two of which come inside the Dome, there is certainly hope infused towards accomplishing this.
SU hosts no. 14 North Carolina and travels to Cameron Indoor for no. 12 Duke next week. Are either of these games easy? Absolutely not. No upset ever is. But it’s no secret that SU is hanging around with its conference foes. SU has only lost by double digits twice in ACC play. And you can really say that it’s just one blowout loss for Syracuse because one of those games came in double overtime against Florida State. So given the Orange’s ability to play tight regardless of the opposition, UNC or Duke would provide the season’s banner win. So which Tobacco Road giant is Syracuse more likely to slay? Here’s the case for each:
The Case For UNC
This is not your typical dominant Tar Heel squad. UNC stumbled through portions of its season and some wonder if they’ve only held onto a spot in the rankings because of the Carolina brand. The Heels suffered some embarrassing losses to Wofford, NC State and Virginia Tech. But that hasn’t stunted them from returning to form lately. Joel Berry looks like the typical Roy Williams senior who rights the ship for UNC whenever it finds itself in turmoil. However, if there’s one place where the Heels stumble, it’s outside of Chapel Hill. In ACC play, Carolina is 3-4 on the road. Syracuse hasn’t been great at home as of late, but the Dome will be rocking with likely more than 30,000 in attendance after a rejuvenating win against Miami and a top 15 Tar Heels coming to town.
The Case For Duke
Coach K has built a new brand of basketball in Durham. He wants young, top-level recruits as opposed to the classic Christian Laettner/Grant Hill-esque star. One-and-done fever has struck the Blue Devils. Along with that, Duke has also opted for more zone defense sets this season. And guess what, 18 and 19-year-olds frankly don’t know how to both play and beat a zone. Duke has looked terrible defensively this season. It’s a middle of the pack team in the country as opposed to the slap the floor, get in your jersey type style. Sure, the Blue Devils have the skill offensively to make up for this. But can they do it against SU’s 10th ranked scoring defense? The Blue Devils mustered up just 63 points against Virginia in a home loss earlier this season which showed how they can struggle against top-tier defenses. Also, that came with Marvin Bagley, who’s averaging 21.2 points per game. The super freshman has missed the last three games with a knee injury, so who knows if he suits up against the Orange. We’ll have to wait and see if he plays on Wednesday against Louisville.
The Verdict: Duke
This might be an unpopular opinion, but the Orange matches up much better against the Blue Devils than the Tar Heels. UNC comes into Wednesday scorching hot after dominating Louisville on the road on Saturday. The Heels are the best rebounding team in the country, which has been one of SU’s strengths that it will now be overmatched in. Along with that, Carolina scores and moves the ball extremely well. UNC is inside the top 25 in the country in scoring offense and top 10 in assists. The Heels can swing the ball around and score from three, which SU has struggled with at times. Along with that, Luke Maye and Theo Pinson are both talented distributors that could wreak havoc from the high post and crack the Orange’s zone, much like they did against the Blue Devils. Duke on the other hand might just overlook SU. Because the Devils are young, they didn’t all feel the sting from John Gillon’s half-court heave last season. Duke starts four freshmen who have struggle on defense and may not know how to handle the zone. Meanwhile, Roy Williams has stuck by his recruiting strategy of getting four year guys that are seasoned against the zone. These games will come down to defense, and the Heels are far better equipped to handle the 2-3 zone than the Blue Devils.