After a disastrous Valentine’s Day date with NC State last Wednesday, SU picked up a season-saving victory over a very tough Miami squad on Saturday which injected life back into its season. While the win over the Canes certainly boosted the Orange’s tournament resume, Boeheim’s bunch is by no means a lock to get into the Big Dance and is squarely on the bubble once again.
But don’t fret if you’re an Orange fan, there’s a couple of humongous opportunities coming up to pick up some marquee victories and really build that tournament resume and it all starts with North Carolina on Wednesday night in the Carrier Dome. The Tar Heels will come into the matchup ranked tenth in the country and, as always, there’s a lot of talent for Roy Williams’s squad, but who do you need to know the most. With that, let’s track the Tar Heels and meet UNC’s three players to watch on Wednesday.
Joel Berry II
Of course we were going to start here. How could we not? Berry is far and away this team’s leader and might even be its best player. After all, it’s hard to argue with a Final Four Most Outstanding Player nod. Berry is the catalyst for the North Carolina offense and if he’s firing on all cylinders then the Tar Heels are going to be playing their best basketball. Berry is the perfect combination of scoring and passing. His high basketball IQ makes him the perfect fit for a UNC team that really does have a lot of weapons. He knows when to create and take a shot for himself, but perhaps even more impressively, knows when it’s the right time to be unselfish and dish the rock off to a teammate for an easy bucket. Despite the silly mistake he made at the beginning of the season when he punched a wall over losing a video game to teammate Theo Pinson and a team manager (yes, that really happened), Berry is smart, levelheaded and calculated and if SU lets him get going on Wednesday night, watch out.
If there’s one guy that will suit up in the Carolina blue and white that can give Berry and run for his money in terms of being the best player on the team, it’s Luke Maye. You can’t forget what he did in the tournament last year either. This year, the junior has turned into one of the best post players in the country and he’s got the stats to prove it. Maye averages a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, both of which lead the Tar Heels. As you could see from his game-winner from the tournament last year, Maye has a lethal mid-range jumper that he will knock down if you leave him open and despite being a little undersized compared to SU’s biggest bigs at 6-foot-8, he’s pretty good with his back to the basket, but that isn’t where Maye could really hurt Syracuse. We saw NC State torch SU from deep last week and Maye is a very talented three-point shooter, knocking down over 46% of his deep balls on the season. Maye is the perfect combo of skill, versatility and hard work and should be watched on Wednesday.
And if we are talking about how UNC could exploit SU’s recent struggles with defending the three-ball then we simply cannot forget about perhaps the Tar Heels most lethal threat from deep. The 6-foot-4 Williams (no, no relation to Roy) has been a lights out three-point shooter all season long, drilling long balls at 41% clip on the year. And while that’s all fine and dandy, it’s what Williams has been doing of late that has been most impressive. In his last five games, which have come against Pitt (15), Duke (20), NC State (11), Notre Dame (14) and Louisville (11), Williams has outperformed his season average of just north of 11 points a game and he’s also made over half of his three-point shots in that stretch. The junior looked particularly unstoppable against the Blue Devils when he went six-of-12 from beyond the arc. Williams was always a very talented player that could burn you from deep, but based on his recent performances and the kind of momentum he’ll be rolling into the Carrier Dome with, he could have a huge impact on this all-important game for Syracuse.