Syracuse will host North Carolina on Saturday in one of the most anticipated home games of the season. Here is a look at the game:
CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT: North Carolina has been a cipher, wrapped in an enigma, smothered in secret sauce. On certain nights, the Tar Heels have looked every bit like a championship contender, knocking off Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State, all in a six-game span. But for each impressive win has come a curious and head scratching loss. UNC has opened ACC play with losses to Wake Forest and Miami, who are both projected to finish (at best) in the middle of the pack in the ACC. There have also been embarrassing losses to Belmont and UAB, and a three point loss to Texas sprinkled in for good measure. It has led to a roller-coaster of a ride in the top 25 polls, which has seen the team start at No. 11 in the preseason rankings, drop completely out, rise to No. 14, and drop out again. “I do feel mentally probably worse than I’ve ever felt as a head coach right now,” said head coach Roy Williams to the News Observer after the team’s loss to Miami. “That also shows what a blessed life I’ve had. But I’ve got good kids. I’ve got to do a better job with them.”
SCOUTING THE TAR HEELS: Perhaps some of the inconsistency can be explained away with the team’s missing personnel. The Tar Heels started the season without star wings PJ Hariston and Leslie McDonald, who were investigated by the NCAA for receiving illegal benefits. After the investigation, UNC said that it wouldn’t seek to reinstate Hairston, who led the Tar Heels in scoring at 14.6 ppg last year. They received better news in McDonald’s case, who resumed play after being forced to sit out the first nine games. Still, McDonald has shot a combined 6-25 in ACC games, and is shooting at just 36 percent from the field in six games. But the real issue for the team has been its free throw shooting. The Tar Heels are shooting 63 percent from the line as a team, and it should come as no surprise that the percentage has dipped significantly in losses. The one exception to that has been sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who has averaged a team-high 17.0 points and 4.4 assists and has shot better than 90 percent from the charity stripe.
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: Syracuse and North Carolina have played each other seven times, with the Tar Heels owning a 4-3 advantage. The last time these two teams met was in the 2009 season, with the Orange throttling then-No. 4 UNC, 87-71, in the 2K Sports Classic Championship at Madison Square Garden. The game proved to be a coming out party for transfer forward Wesley Johnson, whose 25 points and 8 rebounds helped spark a 22-1 run to start the second half. The win also snapped the defending NCAA champion’s 44-game non-conference winning streak.
GAME INFORMATION: Saturday, Jan. 11 at noon at the Carrier Dome. TV: ESPN.