There is a major difference between the old Big East and the current ACC, and Syracuse’s near win against Villanova could be promising as the Orange prepare for ACC play.
After the Villanova game, Jim Boeheim mentioned how Chris McCullough is not physically capable of being competitive against bigger, stronger teams – ones like the Wildcats, and ones that are found in the Big East. For him, the ACC is a better fit because it is a faster pace with players who can shoot, and drive to the basket. It is a more offensive paced conference. This is a plus for McCullough because he will not have to always face the Villanova’s of the ACC.
However, McCullough is not the main issue. Looking at the talented guards of the ACC, Kaleb Joseph is one who will have his hands full, and it starts early and against some players who are sure to be successful in the NBA.
Syracuse has three non-conference games before it begins ACC play, but here are the big games for the Orange to focus on winning, especially because of unbalanced talent.
When your two guards shoot better than 42 percent from three, that is an issue. Boeheim’s zone will force the Hokie guards Adam Smith and Justin Bibbs to shoot from long distance. If the Hokies can get out to an early lead and keep it going, Syracuse is going to struggle to come back. The Orange is one of the worst shooting teams in the country, but sharp shooting from Trevor Cooney and fewer freshmen mistakes from Joseph should keep Syracuse in this one.
Don’t count out BC. The Eagles came into the Carrier Dome to play the top team in the nation, and an undefeated team last year. The Eagles came out and promptly started Syracuse’s overall disappointing end to the season. Boston College will come out strong, and it starts with guard Olivier Hanlan who has speed to the basket and can also hit the corner and wing three-pointers. BC is off to a 6-4 start this season, and Joseph is going to have to keep up with leading scorer Hanlan to help Syracuse stay in the game. Hanlan’s quick hands will also mean Joseph MUST limit his turnovers.
This is the first of the highly anticipated ACC schedule. The Tar Heels are No. 20 headed into this weekend, but junior point guard Marcus Paige is their leader. The point guard loves shooting the long ball. He was 4-for-6 from deep against No. 1 Kentucky earlier this month, and is shooting 34 percent from deep. Joseph will have easily his toughest task of the season at this point against a speedy guard.
This is the game everyone has circled on their calendars, and rightfully so. Most of the concern in conference play this season will be whether or not Joseph can be counted on to stop some of the biggest threats, but McCullough and Christmas are the two to worry about here. The Blue Devils have Jahlil Okafor, who does just about everything right. He can score (17.4 PPG), and he can rebound (8.9 RPG). Here is the issue for McCullough: if he is put at the center position, Okafor will dominate him because of his strength and physical toughness. Okafor is 6’11” and 270 pounds. McCullough is 6’10” and 220 pounds. With Christmas, he has to be careful with his hands. He has to force Okafor to take shots and cannot allow easy access to the basket because he will tip it in – no doubt about it. If Christmas ends up in foul trouble, the issue becomes whether or not McCullough can handle the job.
Duke is big, but this one might be bigger. Montrezl Harrell is a beast. The same concern here is what it is against Duke – the size down low. In 10 games for the Cardinals this season, Harrell has recorded a double-double in five of those 10. Although the competition has not been too difficult for Rick Pitino’s red birds, McCullough and Christmas are going to have to hold things down. These are back-to-back games at the Dome, and the Orange does not want to get embarrassed in back-to-back games on its home court.
These are the early predictions and warning flags. When ACC play started last year, Trevor Cooney was shooting 50 percent from three. That certainly was not the case at the end of the season. Assuming the competition is for real, Syracuse could have its hands full in these conference games, and even a few more.
It is all about being smart. Christmas cannot pick up two fouls in the first five minutes against Duke and Louisville. If he does, Syracuse is in trouble because the Blue Devils can just keep feeding the ball down low. If Joseph can’t stay with Virginia Tech, BC, and UNC point guards, the game is over because they will breeze by him.
Buckle up – it could be a wild ride in the ACC.
Posted: Austin Pollack