Syracuse will go for its third straight win when it plays its regular season home finale against North Carolina (4:00 p.m. ET / ESPN) on Saturday. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Jim Stechschulte and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
Season Record: 2-1
North Carolina is last in the ACC, but they snapped a seven-game slide on Tuesday by beating NC State.
The Tar Heels are a poor shooting team, including ranking 340th in the nation in three-point shooting at 28.8 percent. That goes right toward SU’s 2-3 zone, which has forced the most three-point attempts in conference play.
But, one thing UNC is excellent at is rebounding, ranking 12th nationally in rebounding percentage and 16th in offensive rebounding percentage.
Forwards Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks lead the way, combining for over 25 points and nearly 15 rebounds per game while the Heels as a team have drawn the second-most fouls in ACC play.
Bourama Sidibe, Marek Dolezaj, and Quincy Guerrier will have to provide interior defense and rebounding without fouling, something they have had problems doing consistently all season.
Despite the presence of Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes and UNC’s superstar freshman Cole Anthony on the perimeter, this one comes down to the matchups inside. The Orange are on the bad side of them and it will show on the scoreboard in an 82-78 loss.
Season Record 17-2
Roy Williams has been so successful during his 17-year run at North Carolina that the longest losing streak he’s had with the Tar Heels prior to this season was four games.
The operative clause in that sentence was “prior to this season.”
UNC just ended an unthinkable seven-game losing streak with an 85-79 win over NC State earlier in the week. Even with the win, the Tar Heels are 11-17 on the season and 4-13 in ACC play.
To end the streak, they needed a career night from Garrison Brooks, who poured in 30 points including an uncharacteristic 14-16 from the free throw line. Cole Anthony also continued his stellar campaign, with 19 points, five assists and five rebounds. When he’s been healthy, he’s lived up to the freshman hype.
KenPom ranks the Tar Heels as a mediocre offense (117th) and defense (80), but what strikes me is the luck ranking, where North Carolina ranks near the bottom of Division I at 315. This essentially means that UNC’s record isn’t nearly as bad as what the stats say.
Still, some of those stats play into Syracuse’s hands. North Carolina won’t be able to shoot over the top of the zone because for the season, they are shooting a collective 28.8 percent from beyond the arc and 41 percent from the field. Even in the winning effort against the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels shot only 3-16 from downtown.
UNC got the win by being +8 on the boards, which included 13 offensive rebounds. On the season, the Tar Heels are averaging 42.4 rebounds per game, which should worry a Syracuse team that is thin in the front court and has struggled in particular this season against more physical teams.
With Buddy Boeheim’s unavailability uncertain, that potentially makes short rotation even thinner. That should make for a close game, with the Orange ultimately holding on for a 74-70 win.