In a little more than 48 hours, Syracuse’s men’s basketball team will embark on its annual journey towards March. This year, the outlook seems a little bit different, as the Orange is flying under the radar for the first time in a long time. The Orange opens the season up against Lehigh, a game that Syracuse should win handily.
The Mountain Hawks were selected as the preseason favorite to win the Patriot League. Last season, Lehigh finished 16-14, including a big triple overtime win at Arizona State. This season, though, the Hawks return much of their talent, including the reighning Patriot League player of the year, big man Tim Kempton. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore and is looking to build on those numbers this year.
Kempton provides a difficult matchup for Syracuse, actually. In the two exhibition games that the Orange won, the team has struggled mightily with rebounding the ball under the basket. With a 6-foot-10 forward as the focal point of the Lehigh offense, Jim Boeheim and the coaching staff will get a good look at Dajuan Coleman’s real defensive skills and the zone’s ability to rebound the ball when the shots are coming from the paint. In the two exhibition games, most shots came from well beyond the arc, which placed more emphasis on the guards rebounding.
Aside from Kempton, the Orange will have to worry about junior Austin Price and sophomore Kahron Ross. The starting backcourt for the Mountain Hawks both average double-digit scoring. Ross led the team in assists as a freshman and both hit about a third of their three-point shots. What could lead to a potential upset on Friday night is Lehigh’s ability to shoot the three ball efficiently. If the zone has to extend to meet three point shooters, then Coleman will be isolated on the inside and have to guard Kempton, which could lead to foul trouble or simply a ton of points.
Luckily enough for SU, Lehigh doesn’t shoot very efficiently from behind the arc. The Mountain Hawks ranked 147th in college basketball in three-point shooting, at a clip below 35 percent. Most importantly though, three pointers were not a huge part of their offense last season. Only 24 percent of the team’s points came from threes. Lehigh was 84th in the country in rebounds per game last season, so containing the paint and not having to worry about three point shooters will be huge for Syracuse.
Look for Friday night to be a relatively big win for the Orange. It will instill confidence in both the team and the fans around Central New York. As long as Dajuan Coleman avoids foul trouble, SU’s three-point barrage should be too much for Lehigh to handle.