After dipping its toes into the Power Five waters and finding them to be freezing cold, the Syracuse men’s basketball team returns to the comfort of playing cupcake opponents this weekend. North Florida visits the Carrier Dome on Saturday in a “get-right” game for the Orange — one that Jim Boeheim’s team should win handily.
The Ospreys (“a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey,” according to Wikipedia) play their home games in Jacksonville, and hail from the Atlantic Sun Conference. They qualified for March Madness a couple years ago after winning the 2015 ASUN Tournament. UNF lost to Robert Morris in the First Four (the official name for the play-in games), but gained national recognition when one of its band members danced like his hair was on fire.
North Florida has stumbled out of the gates this season — it enters Saturday’s game with a record of 3-6, and checks in at No. 243 in KenPom.com’s national rankings. The Ospreys have taken on four Power Five opponents (Auburn, Miami, LSU, Florida), and lost those games by an average of 23.5 points. Two of their wins came against in-state “foes” called “Edward Waters” and “Florida National.”
UNF’s third victory was a nail-biter over North Dakota decided by a game-winning floater from the Ospreys’ best player. Dallas Moore connected with eight seconds remaining to push his team past the Fighting Hawks, and he’s no stranger to carrying the squad. The senior point guard is averaging 20.4 points per game (10 more than any of his teammates) on 47.9 percent shooting, including 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-1 floor general has fine-tuned his lefty stroke this year — he’s also knocking down 89.3 percent of his free throws — but isn’t facilitating as frequently. Last season, Moore dished six assists per game, but is averaging just 2.9 during the current campaign.
Regardless, Moore is the North Florida offense. Without him, the Ospreys would flounder (even more than they already do). Moore’s most notable teammate is Wajid Aminu, a freshman forward who’s averaging nine points and six boards, and is the brother of former top-10 NBA draft pick Al-Farouq Aminu.
North Florida can’t stop a nosebleed — UNF ranks 304th on KenPom’s defensive efficiency leaderboard, one spot below its finish in 2015-16. The difference between the current iteration of the Ospreys and last year’s is that this one can’t score, either. They slot in at 178th on the offensive end, a season after finishing 36th in the country.
North Florida’s main offensive issue is its inability to protect the ball; the Ospreys are one of just three (out of 351) teams coughing up the rock at least 20 times per game this season. You can bet your next month’s salary that Boeheim will order his guards to crank up the pressure at the top of the zone, and he may utilize the full-court press more than he would against a sure-handed team.
UNF features one real strength (or, more accurately, non-weakness): offensive rebounding. Against Division I opponents, the Ospreys have collected more than 34 percent of their missed shots, the 73rd-best rate in the country. Expect North Florida to crash the boards hard — that’s something most huge underdogs do, especially against a Syracuse team that runs a zone, which is more vulnerable to offensive rebounding than classic man-to-man defenses.
Combine UNF’s tendency to attack the offensive glass with its habit of turning the ball over, and the Orange should pile up points in transition. SU scored just two fastbreak points combined over its current two-game losing streak, so Saturday could offer a chance for Syracuse to figure out its transition offense.
The bottom line is that North Florida simply isn’t very good. The Orange should steamroll the Ospreys, and if they don’t, we give you permission to press the panic button.