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Crucial Week Lies Ahead for Syracuse Orange as Huge Games Loom

Posted on February 20, 2018 by Chris Kent

An absolute crucial week is about to commence for the Syracuse men’s basketball team. Come late Saturday night, it could end up making or breaking the season for the Orange.

SU LogoWhile Syracuse’s regular season finale on March 3 with nationally ranked Clemson (20-6, 9-5) will carry weight for its’ NCAA Tournament hopes as well, this week’s back-to-back games against ACC bluebloods North Carolina and Duke will be enormous for the Orange as they seek to secure an NCAA bid. Although Syracuse will also compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament March 6-10 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY where its’ play could also factor into their chances for an NCAA bid, leaving most or all of their NCAA fortunes to that event would be risky when it is not yet even known what the seedings or matchups are going to be.

The Orange (18-9, 7-7) will play three of their final four regular season games against teams currently ranked in the top 15 and who also have a top 10 RPI. A win or two against those teams would place Syracuse on solid instead of shaky ground by the end of the regular season. This would be to their advantage and seem to make their NCAA path easier. Although it is possible for a team “on the bubble” to play its’ way to an NCAA bid based on what they do during championship week, it is a tougher road.

The competition level ramps up for the Orange on Wednesday Feb. 21 when defending national champion North Carolina (21-7,

Roy Williams coaches with fierce intensity and has another 20-win season in 2017-18.

Roy Williams coaches with intensity and has another 20-win season in 2017-18.

10-5) visits the Carrier Dome for a nationally televised prime time game at 7 pm EST on ESPN. Ranked 10th in this week’s AP Poll and possessing an RPI of five, the Tar Heels are riding a five-game winning streak that has featured wins over Duke, North Carolina State, and Louisville. Meanwhile, Syracuse has won three of its’ last four games and comes off a 62-55 win at Miami on Feb. 17.

North Carolina has another strong team this year and is lead by the trio of senior guards Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson along with 6-8 junior forward Luke Maye who leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 18.4 and 10.5 averages respectively. Berry II and Pinson not only give the Tar Heels production but a pair of senior leaders in the backcourt who have played in the last two national championship games. Berry averages 17.7 points per-game and dishes out 3.1 assists per-game while Pinson adds 9.3 ppg along with a team-best 4.5 apg. Junior guard Kenny Williams also scores 11.5 ppg.

Berry II is one of the better point guards in North Carolina history. Named to the All-Final Four Teams each of the last two seasons, Berry II is one of just two players in ACC history to be named the ACC Tournament MVP in one season (2016) and garner Final Four Most Outstanding Player in another (2017), joining Duke legend Christian Laettner, arguably the top NCAA Tournament performer of all-time.

Joel Berry II brings senior leadership for defending national champion North Carolina.

Joel Berry II brings senior leadership for defending national champion North Carolina.

Berry II has scored at least 20 points in each of the last two national championship games making him one of only seven players to accomplish that feat. Amid legendary Tar Heels like Bob McAdoo, Bobby Jones, Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and Marcus Paige, Berry II is also the only player in North Carolina history to earn All-Final Four honors in two seasons.

With all his proven experience and accolades, Berry II is vital to the Tar Heels’ success. Graduate student Cameron Johnson, a 6-8 forward who transferred from ACC foe Pittsburgh after last season, gives North Carolina 3-point shooting as he converts 36 percent (32-for-89) of his shots from beyond the arc.

The Orange counters with a team that is short on depth with only seven available scholarship players. First-year players Matthew Moyer and Bourama Sidibe have been slowed by injuries recently but have still managed to contribute. Junior point guard Frank Howard and sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle have been constant forces for Syracuse this season and will need to step up against the Tar Heels to give the Orange their best chance to win.

Battle, who was recently named one of 10 candidates for the fourth annual Jerry West Award which recognizes the top shooting guard in NCAA Division I men’s college basketball, leads Syracuse with 19.9 ppg. Howard has taken a significant step forward in

Tyus Battle is a strong all-around player for the Orange.

Tyus Battle is a strong all-around player for the Orange.

his play this season after serving in a reserve role last season to starting point guard John Gillon. Howard averages 15.2 ppg and leads the Orange with 5.1 apg.

Freshman forward Oshae Brissett, who was named this week’s ACC Co-Rookie of the Week, has been a key performer as well with his 14.7 ppg and team-high 9.0 rpg. Brissett comes off a week in which he scored a career high 25 points in a 74-70 home loss to North Carolina State on Feb. 14 before recording his 10th collegiate double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds in last Saturday’s win at Miami. Junior 7-2 center Paschal Chukwu leads Syracuse with 72 blocks on the season to go along with 6.4 rpg and 5.5 ppg while giving the Orange added height and length for its vaunted 2-3 zone defense.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim – in his 42nd year at his alma mater – is 3-8 in his career against North Carolina while the Orange are 4-9 all-time against the Tar Heels. Since Syracuse joined the ACC beginning with the 2013-14 season, North Carolina leads the series 4-1. If you count their meeting in the 2016 National Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels are 5-1 against the Orange in all meetings since Syracuse joined the ACC.

Jim Boeheim coaches with aggression and is looking for his team to peak this week..

Jim Boeheim will be looking for his team to peak against elite competition this week.

The Orange have not beaten North Carolina since a 57-45 win in the Carrier Dome on January 11, 2014 which was their first season in the ACC. Syracuse has lost its’ last five games against the Tar Heels including the setback in the national semifinals of The Final Four in 2016.

Should the Orange end their losing streak against North Carolina on Wednesday, it will give them their biggest and most valuable win to date on the season. That outcome will certainly raise their vibe and propel them into their next game on Saturday Feb. 24 at fifth-ranked Duke which is fourth in this week’s RPI.

The series is tied 3-3 between the Blue Devils and Syracuse as ACC foes and the Orange have won the last two. Boeheim is 4-4 all-time against Duke and Syracuse has an all-time record of 5-5 against the Blue Devils.

The two teams will be hard pressed to exceed the drama of last year’s game in the Carrier Dome. Gillon’s 3-point shot with no time left on the clock banked in breaking a 75-75 tie to give the Orange a dramatic 78-75 win which seemed to bolster their NCAA Tournament hopes at the time. However come selection Sunday it was not enough for an NCAA Tournament bid as Syracuse ended up in the NIT. Despite this it was still the top moment of the year for the Orange and one of the best games of the season in all of college basketball.

This matchup has already developed into a marquee one. Duke and North Carolina remains the top matchup year in and year out in the ACC and all of the land. However the Syracuse-Duke matchup is not that far behind as a major yearly attraction.

The Orange and Blue Devils have already staged some highly dramatic games in their short four-year history as ACC affiliates. The

Mike Krzyzewski has Duke near the top of the national rankings again.

Mike Krzyzewski has Duke near the top of the national rankings again.

first ever ACC matchup between them was thrilling right down to the wire. A 3-pointer by Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon forced a 78-78 tie and silenced a record crowd of 35,446 people in the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1, 2014. Syracuse went on to win 91-89 in overtime, securing the victory behind a 7-for-8 effort from the foul line in the extra period. Three weeks later at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils won 66-60 following a controversial call. The Orange trailed 60-58 with 24 seconds left. Syracuse moved the ball around and got it to C.J. Fair who drove the baseline and appeared to lay in the game-tying shot with 11 seconds left to play. However it was waived off when Fair was called for a charge. The call caused Boeheim to vocally and physically erupt leading to his suit coat flopping all around him while he made his way out onto the court in protest of the call by referee Tony Greene who ejected him from the game with 11 seconds left to play. Duke then shot 6-for-8 from the foul line to secure the win.

The Blue Devils and Orange also met twice during the 2014-15 season with Duke completing the season sweep. The Blue Devils would go on to win the national championship that season. The following season would see a record performance as Syracuse got its’ first ever win over Duke at Cameron. Junior forward Tyler Roberson grabbed a career high 20 rebounds which also represented the most ever by a visiting player at Cameron. Roberson’s board total included 12 offensive rebounds which tied the Orange single-game record set by Billy Owens in 1990.  Roberson also finished with 14 points in the 64-62 Syracuse victory.

As these two programs continue to parallel each other behind their hall of fame head coaches in Boeheim and Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski, it only appears that it will become more fabled in the archives of the ACC and all of college basketball.

Marvin Bagley III is the latest in a long line of freshman gems for Duke.

Marvin Bagley III is the latest in a long line of freshman gems for Duke.

The next chapter will come on Saturday and with it a chance for the Orange to further bolster their NCAA outlook. Duke has its’ usual top team and is lead by guard Grayson Allen, the team’s lone senior. Allen is surrounded by a talented group of freshman in forwards Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. who stand 6-11 and 6-10 respectively. Guards Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. provide offensive punch to complement Allen. All five players average double figures in scoring with Bagley the best of the bunch at 21.2 ppg to go with a team best 11.4 rpg. Allen and Trent Jr. each score 15.1 ppg. while Carter Jr. adds 14.4 ppg and pulls down 9.6 rpg. Duval adds 11.1 ppg.

The Blue Devils opened this season 11-0 which included wins over the likes of Michigan State, Florida, and Texas. Duke also beat Indiana in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Blue Devils first loss of the season came at Boston College on Dec. 9, which was their first ACC game. After dropping three of four games over two weeks in January and February, Duke has won its’ last three games including a 66-57 victory at Clemson in its’ most recent contest on Feb. 18. The Blue Devils host Louisville on Feb. 21 before welcoming Syracuse to Cameron three days later. That game will help determine the fortunes and positions of the two teams with the former being more important for the Orange. The stage has been set. Let the high stakes play begin. For Syracuse, this week will feature the Madness before March.


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