Syracuse travels to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. (TV: ACC Network). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Saugat Sen and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
Season Record: 1-0
Syracuse and North Carolina both are .500 in conference play, and have played their fair share of close games recently.
Last week, the Orange blew an 18 point lead to Pitt and eventually lost by three. On Saturday, against their old rivals, Georgetown, the Orange saw their 16-point lead fizzle to three before hanging on for a five-point win.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels have won their last two games by a combined three points. Andrew Platek’s running jumper with three seconds go to allowed the Tar Heels to squeak by Miami, 67-65, one game after freshman Day’ron Sharpe’s late jumper pushed UNC to a 66-65 win over Notre Dame.
Sharpe will be the player to watch in this game, having averaged 18.5 ppg and 13.0 rpg in those two wins. The No. 2 center in the 2020 class according to ESPN, Sharpe will be a big problem for the Orange, who will likely be missing starting center Bourama Sidibe again.
At 6’11” and 265 pounds, the Orange have a tough time stopping the freshman from dominating both ends of the floor. Combine that with the Orange struggling to hold leads lately, UNC will be too much for Syracuse to overcome as UNC wins 75-68.
Season Record 3-1
In Syracuse’s 63-60 loss to Pitt last week, the Orange was pummeled on the glass, surrendering a -16 margin. It should be a surprise, as the Panthers average 42.8 rebounds per game, 10th in college basketball.
North Carolina proves to be an even bigger challenge for the Orange, with the Tar Heels averaging 44.9 rebounds per game, which is second in the NCAA. Aside from the aforementioned Sharpe (8.3 rpg), forwards Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks also average over seven rebounds per game, and guard Leaky Black averages 6.4 rpg.
By contrast, the Tar Heels aren’t a particularly good 3-point shooting team, shooting a combined 30.4 percent from beyond the arc. Kerwin Walton is shooting 15 for 31 from downtown, but Caleb Love (17.8 3pt%) and RJ Davis (28.6%) have struggled to start the year. And while the Tar Heels have won their last two games in the final minutes, they’ve also lost close games against NC State and Georgia Tech.
That all has the recipe of a closely contested game. The Orange figure to pack the zone in against UNC’s big men, and dare the Tar Heels to beat them from the outside. A few plays in the final few minutes will decide this one, but UNC takes it 59-55, holding off a final rally from the Orange.