Despite being back above .500 after Thursday’s win over Oakland, there isn’t a ton to be excited about with this Syracuse basketball team. Jim Boeheim is upset with the fans. SU can’t defend anybody worth their salt on the interior. Heck, even the guy that was supposed to be a possible one-and-done candidate has been completely silenced over the past few games.
It goes without saying that a lot needs to change for long-term faith to be restored in this team. A blowout home win over a mediocre mid-major might help that cause a bit and the Orange have the opportunity to do just that when North Florida comes to the Dome on Saturday. The Ospreys head to CNY at 7-6 on the season and here’s what you need to know about them.
BONUS FUN FACT: An osprey is a fish-eating bird of prey in the raptor family that is found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They typically grow to be larger than 2 feet tall and have wingspans of up to 6 feet.
Dial it Up
There are two weaknesses of the 2-3 zone, the high post and the easiness of shooting the three-point shot. That does not bode well against North Florida. The Ospreys lead the country in both three-point field goal attempts (428) and three-point field goal makes (162) by a very wide margin. The only teams even close to UNF in either category are BYU whose made 138 of their attempts this season and St. Joseph’s and Purdue Fort Wayne who have both attempted 384 triples. Even though the efficiency of those shots is a bit lower on the totem pole (.378 sits 36th in the country), the Ospreys willingness and desire to shoot the long-ball is going to be absolutely necessary to shut down. Similarly to the way Coach Quentin Hillsman runs the SU women’s team, UNF head man Matthew Driscoll (pictured above) is less concerned about the percentage of threes that goes in, instead focusing on firing as many as possible. Guys to watch from beyond the three-point line include Carter Hendricksen (16.2 ppg), Ivan Gandia-Rosa (14.8 ppg) and JT Escobar (12.3 ppg), all three of whom shoot better than 40% from distance.
Big, Big Problems?
Syracuse has been really, really, really bad at defending the paint this season. Jim Boeheim has said time and time again that the interior defense simply has to get better and after giving up 30 points in the paint and 24 free-throw attempts on Thursday against Oakland, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon. North Florida provides an opportunity to turn that around. Of the nine or ten guys that play on a relatively consistent basis for the Ospreys, not a single one them stands taller than 6-foot-8 or weighs more than 238 pounds. The “bigs” on this UNF team are essentially all about the same size as Quincy Guerrier (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) if not a bit smaller. Big, physical post players like Georgetown’s Omer Yurtseven and Penn State’s Mike Watkins have been the biggest (no pun intended) issue for the Orange defensively this season, so the size advantage will be welcome on Saturday but there have still been times when guys that size have hurt SU, so the Orange aren’t out of the woods yet.
All in the Family
The Boeheim-Boeheim family connection has been talked about plenty for the Syracuse basketball team, but the boys of North Florida also have a couple of fun family connections in the hoops world. We’ll start with senior forward Wajid Aminu who had a 10 point, 10 rebound double-double against SU back in 2016 when the Ospreys nearly pulled off a massive upset in the Dome. That last name should sound familiar to basketball fans because Wajid’s brother, Al-Farouq, was a standout for three years at Wake forest before being the 8th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft to the Clippers. He’s since gone on to carve out a nice career for himself with five different teams, including with the Magic with whom he’s averaging 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this season.
The other fun bloodline that the Ospreys have to offer comes in the form of senior forward Ezekiel Balogun. The Citadel transfer has played in 9 of the Osprey’s 13 games this season but while he’s only making a small impact, his little sister, Elizabeth, is lighting up the ACC. The 6-foot-1 guard was the ACC Freshman of the Year a season ago after averaging nearly 15 points per game at Georgia Tech. Following the firing of Yellow Jackets head coach MaChelle Joseph, Balogun opted to transfer and was granted immediate eligibility at Louisville where she has now started 11 of 12 games for the No. 6 team in the country, averaging 9 points and 5 boards per game.