Syracuse will go for a big upset when it travels to Kentucky to play Louisville (7:00 p.m. ET / ESPN) on Wednesday. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Jim Stechschulte and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
Season Record: 1-1
Just as in the run-up to facing Syracuse last season, things have gone off the tracks for Louisville, as they struggled in a pair of road losses last week. They lost at Georgia Tech, 64-58, then flatlined at Clemson, getting dominated by the Tigers, 77-62.
In an effort to spark the team, Chris Mack benched preseason All-American Jordan Nwora on Saturday. The move simply did not work, as Nwora struggled again. He totaled eight turnovers, seven points, and six fouls in the two losses.
The issue may just be something simple that happens in a long season, though. Georgia Tech and Clemson are ranked #26 and #28, respectively, in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency. In their losses to those two teams, Louisville shot 34.4% overall and 17.6% from three-point range, both games among their worst shooting efforts of the season. Prior to the two losses, Louisville shot 46.6% from the field and 40.4% from deep on the season, so seeing Syracuse’s #134-ranked defensive unit may reveal the true Cardinals.
Meanwhile, Syracuse’s reliance on three-point shooting has been hurting them. The team has not made double digit threes in a game in over a month and made one-third or fewer of their long-distance tries in eight straight games, making just 26.6 percent beyond the arc in that time.
Joe Girard III was 5-of-12 from long range Saturday, but 11-for-51 (21.6 percent) in the previous seven games. Buddy Boeheim was scoreless on Saturday and is now 17-for-51 (33.3 percent) on threes in the last seven games. Elijah Hughes’ three-point shot took an early Christmas vacation and has been mostly missing since, as he is 23-for-86 (26.7 percent) from deep since December 21.
What the Orange have done since the calendar turned to 2020 is play close games. Only four SU games since New Year’s have had a final margin of more than five points, one of those an overtime game. While SU pulled out a win last year over a reeling Cardinal squad, that is not in the cards this time. Louisville will be able to get going on offense and Syracuse will stick around, but not have enough to get over the hump. The Cardinals claim a home win, 77-71.
Season Record 14-2
Louisville was stunned in two road losses to two lesser ACC teams in Clemson and Georgia Tech last week. The two teams have combined for a 25-25 record, and are fighting for a bid to the NIT, not the NCAA Tournament.
As my colleague Jim points out above, KenPom ranks both of these teams in the top 30 of adjusted defensive efficiency. Meanwhile, after giving up another 80 points in a close road loss to Florida State on Saturday, the Orange dropped to 135th in the same metric.
With the exception of a 76-50 rout of Boston College in January, all of Syracuse’s teams in the calendar year have been decided by 10 points or less. So the fact that Louisville was No. 5 last week shouldn’t stand in the way of this being another competitive game.
One of the main keys for SU in this matchup will be to get sharpshooter Buddy Boeheim back in a groove. Boeheim tallied just 10 points before fouling out in a Feb. 11 matchup against NC State, followed up by the worst game of his collegiate career, going scoreless on 0-7 shooting from the field (0-5 from downtown) in the loss to FSU.
Had Boeheim had even a mediocre game, the Orange may have walked away with an upset. But with Syracuse now also fighting for a bid to the NIT, a return to form would be helpful. That said, a road game against a Louisville team that is among the most talented in the ACC and currently ranks No. 19 in adjusted offensive efficiency doesn’t bode well for Syracuse. I see Louisville gutting out a 79-72 win over the Orange.