Syracuse begins to wrap up its non-conference schedule when it hosts upstate rival Buffalo on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. (TV: ACC Network). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
Season Record: 0-0
We all know what happened the last time Buffalo ventured into the Dome in Dec. 2018. The Bulls, under then-coach Nate Oats (now at Alabama), were ranked 14 th in the country and one of only nine unbeaten teams in Div. I. They silenced the crowd with a shocking 71-59 victory, handing Syracuse its second-straight loss of that early season, as SU went cold shooting (28%) in the second half.
Sound familiar? Flash forward to 2020 when on Wednesday the Orange struggled in their 62-56 win over Northeastern, shooting just 24% in the second half, going 0-for-7 from three-point range. SU won because of its defense, forcing NU into 21 turnovers, resulting in 19 ‘Cuse points.
That is going to be a key this season as the offense strives for consistently as opposed to being hot one game (Boston College) and cold the next (Northeastern).
Buffalo comes into the Dome this year off a 90-62 thrashing of Miami (OH) Tuesday night, but will again be minus head coach Jim Whitesell due to coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.
Even with Whitesell, UB is stepping up in competition facing SU, and Jim Boeheim will have had two practices to get the Orange playing better than Wednesday.
We think the Orange defense will again be primed to create obstacles for the Bulls offense, and guards Joe Girard, Buddy Boeheim and Kadary Richmond will have big games in a 77-65 Syracuse victory.
Season Record 1-0
Syracuse’s last two games have shown us that while the Orange are capable of torrid shooting and topping 100 points on any given night (like Boston College), they are just as susceptible of shooting 10 percent from beyond the arc and needing to grind out wins against inferior teams (Northeastern).
Northeastern isn’t a particular defensive dynamo, and currently sits at 185th in the NCAA according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings, yet the Orange was a frigid 2-18 from downtown. Boston College is better defensively at 114th, but SU shot 16-31 from 3-point land.
That’s just going to be the nature of this 2020-21 Syracuse team because they will rely heavily on the 3-point shot. Of their three main 3-point shooters (Joe Girard, Buddy Boeheim and Alan Griffin), it’s reasonable to think that one or even two will have an off night more often than not. But Wednesday was certainly an anomaly as Boeheim and Griffin didn’t just have “off” games, they were completely frigid as they shot a combined 1-16.
Buffalo is a middle of the road defensive team, ranked 143rd, giving up 71.0 points per game. While Jeenathan Williams has been a dominant force (20.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg), the Bulls are only an average shooting outside team, hitting 31.1 percent of their shots from distance.
That all bodes well for Syracuse, which is given an 87.2 percent chance of winning according to the ESPN BPI and are 13-point favorites according to Sports Betting Dime. That said, it should be a closely contested game, but improved performances from Boeheim and Griffin should make for a less stressful game, with the Orange ultimately taking this one 79-71.