Syracuse will try to rebound from a home loss against Duke when it travels to play North Carolina on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Steve Auger and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
STEVE AUGER (Season Record: 2-0): Sometimes in conference play, teams struggle against an opponent. Syracuse once rattled off 22 straight wins against old Big East foe Seton Hall. During that same time frame, the Orange struggled mightily with Villanova. Go figure.
The North Carolina Tar Heels, for whatever reason, have had the Orange’s number through Syracuse’s first five ACC seasons.
Entering Tuesday night’s game, the Orange sports a record of 1-7 through in its eight previous match-ups. Syracuse’s lone win came in the teams’ first meeting at the Carrier Dome. Since then, the Heels have won twice on the road, swept three games in Chapel Hill, and bested the Orange once in the NCAA Final Four and once in the ACC Tournament.
One factor that has led to Syracuse’s inability to topple Goliath is UNC’s rebounding edge.
Through those eight games, SU has lost the battle of the boards six times. The Orange out-rebounded the Tar Heels 41-35 in its only win and by a 35-33 margin in a 2016 loss at the Dome. On three occasions, UNC came away with a double-digit rebounding edge – 12, 15, and a whopping 20 boards.
So how do the two teams stack up this season on the backboards?
North Carolina leads the ACC with 42.8 RPG. They rank first in defensive rebounds with 30.1 per game and third in offensive rebounds with 12.7 per game. Syracuse ranks tenth in the league with 35.7 RPG.
Given Syracuse’s struggles to shoot the ball coupled with UNC’s dominance on the glass, I don’t see the Orange enjoying Tobacco Road, with UNC winning 81-63.
WES CHENG (Season Record: 7-5): North Carolina boasts one of the best defenses in the entire country, and knows how to turn defense into offense.
Coming into Tuesday night’s matchup, the Tar Heels are 10th in KenPom’s adjusted defense and fifth in adjusted tempo. In an 88-72 win over Duke (granted, without Zion Williamson) last week, the Tar Heels forced 20 turnovers which they turned into 19 points, and also added 14 fast break points.
Expect UNC to push the pace and not allow SU to get its zone set before initiating its offense.
Even in the halfcourt set, North Carolina is efficient, with a 1.41 assist to turnover ratio, which is good for 16th in the country. Five different players average more than two assists per game, which includes Luke Maye, who in his senior season is averaging 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He’s part of a “Big 3” that also features Coby White (15.2 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Cameron Johnson (16.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg).
Syracuse has had little success against the Tar Heels since joining the ACC, and I don’t expect that to change on Tuesday, with North Carolina easily dispatching the Orange 71-56.