Syracuse roped Orange nation a couple inches closer after its convincing win in the ACC Tournament over Wake Forest last night. Crazy that it took this long, but SU finally got the ACC Tournament monkey off its back. Despite the win, the Orange is not squarely in line for a bid quite yet. At this point, grab another towel. Syracuse is looking at sweating through Selection Sunday once again this season. But one way the Orange can feel a lot better about itself is a win against North Carolina tonight. I know, much easier said than done.
But there is reason to believe if you’re an SU fan. Syracuse played a great second half against UNC earlier this season. But some of the usual downfalls could not push the Orange over the edge down the stretch. But there were certainly some valuable lessons to be learned from that game that Syracuse can use for tonight’s matchup.
Deny The High Post
This might be the most crucial battle for tonight. Theo Pinson feasted on the Orange last game with a career-high 23 points to go along with 7 assists. That cannot happen tonight if Syracuse wants to stand any chance. Pinson is one of the best passing big men in the conference, which poses problems against the zone. But the problem with containing Pinson is that Luke Maye is just as big of a problem from the high post. This is going to have to be a join effort from the zone starting at the top. If Battle and Howard can get their hands on passes at the head of the zone, then that makes life easy. But it’s infeasible to do that for a full 40 minutes. This is where Paschal Chukwu needs to step up and be physical with a good shooter like Maye. But he can afford to sag on Pinson and try to force bad passes and rely on his length to block floaters. If Syracuse can neutralize those two, the Orange is staring a tourney bid in the face.
Get Your Guys Going
Unlike yesterday, the stars came out for SU in this one. Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett combined for 66 points the last time out against the Tar Heels. It will be interesting to see how UNC tries to attack the new Orange wrinkle with Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu coming off phenomenal games. If SU can get its big three rolling in the early stages, that should let the supplemental parts use some of their newfound confidence to aid Battle, Brissett and Howard. However, if Dolezaj and Chukwu start to become a semi-focus on UNC’s defensive attack, that will allow Brissett some space to shoot in order to rebound from his off night against Wake Forest. Likewise, Battle shot poorly against UNC the last time around with an 0-for-5 performance from three. This is not the same type of big and physical Carolina team that people are used to, which may allow Chukwu and Dolezaj to continue to roll off their big games.
Win The Little Battles
It’s no secret where the talent edge lies. Just look at the records, rankings and the fresh banner hanging in the Dean Dome. But this is a beatable UNC team that has suffered bad losses this season. To compensate for the talent and experience disparity, the Orange needs to do the little things. That is the only reason it was competitive last game. The game was far from close in the first half, but a big momentum shift and a clean second half kept the Orange around. Lethal turnovers and poor shot selection at the end doomed SU. You’re not going to out rebound a team like the Tar Heels. So where else will the Orange find an advantage? Free throws are a start and not trying to beat UNC at its own game will also certainly help. Syracuse cannot afford to try to win a physicality battle given the fouling risks and its depth. But if the Orange can play a defensive-minded game and let the offensive talent do its part, then get ready to call in sick next week.