Syracuse will try for its third win in a row when it faces Niagara (7:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network Extra) on Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
BRAD BIERMAN (Season Record, 1-0): This final non-conference game on the Syracuse basketball schedule against Niagara was also one of the last games to be announced for this year’s slate back on July 1. The game made sense as the final tune-up after a one-week Christmas break before ACC play commences in full, and it was to coincide with former Le Moyne coach Patrick Belein taking over the Purple Eagles program.
With the only official word about Belein’s sudden September resignation still being labeled for “personal reasons,” it thrust former SU quarterback and Duke guard Greg Paulus from assistant coach to interim head coach, to permanent head coach, in dizzyingly fast fashion.
Now a week off after falling to Buffalo Big 4 rival UB by 20-points to drop its season record to 2-8, Paulus gets to match wits with Jim Boeheim with an undersized roster, against a team that Boeheim has been building piece-by-piece over the first 13 games.
It will be a prime opportunity for the Orange to showcase some sort of inside game to compliment three-point shooting and keep the assist-to-basket ratio perking, and to work on rebounding at both ends for second chance opportunities and some speed in transition for quick points.
It should be a night when a lot of the SU roster sees playing time as the ‘Cuse will bounce Niagara 88-67.
WES CHENG (Season Record: 4-0): Simply put, this is the worst team that Syracuse will play this year.
Niagara comes in at 312 in the current KenPom rankings, and there are only 41 other teams in Division I college basketball that rate worse than them. The next weakest opponent on SU’s schedule was Cornell (284).
Niagara’s offense is below average, as they score 67.9 points per game, and against the only other Power 6 team the Purple Eagles played this season against Rutgers, they mustered 39 points.
Where Niagara really struggles is on defense. They are 344th (of 353) in adjusted defense, as they’ve surrendered 85 or more points four times this season, and 80.3 per game.
Teams that typically excel against the zone either use ball movement to shoot over the top of it, or muscle their way inside. Niagara can’t do either of those things.
Aside from junior Nichols Kratholm, who stands at 6’9″, the Purple Eagles are all 6’6″ or shorter. And as a team, they shoot 32.5 from beyond the arc.
Expect this one to be out of reach by halftime, with Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim opening up his bench after intermission to get an extended look at Jessie Edwards, Robert Braswell and, if healthy, Howard Washington. The Orange wins 87-58, as Syracuse builds momentum heading into SU’s ACC opener against Notre Dame on Jan. 4.