Syracuse Basketball: 5 Keys Avoiding an Upset Against Providence
The No. 8 Syracuse Orange have a date on Wednesday with the suddenly-hot Providence Friars.
The Friars (14-11, 6-7 Big East) came into the Big East season with losses to Boston College and Brown University and continued the losing ways with losses to Louisville, DePaul and Syracuse. In its first nine conference games, Providence would only win two games, but records can be deceiving.
The Friars only lost to Syracuse 72-66 in a game that the Friars led by eight in the first half and didn’t see the Orange pull away until late in the second half. The Friars also lost a heartbreaker to Connecticut in overtime, 82-79, at the end of January, but something about that loss shook Providence in a profound way.
Providence’s good fortunes have primarily come at home with its only in-conference road wins coming at Seton Hall, Villanova and South Florida.
This time around the Friars must travel to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse (21-4, 9-3) for a second time this season.
In the first game, on Jan. 9, the Orange shot an abysmal 3-of-21 from the three-point line and were saved by incredible free-throw shooting down the stretch to prevent the embarrassing loss.
Since that game, Syracuse has been able to take out each ranked team it has played, including Louisville, Cincinnati and Notre Dame, but has fallen asleep in losses against Villanova, Pittsburgh and Connecticut.
Providence will be the last unranked team Syracuse will play until March 6 when it plays DePaul. In between those games, Syracuse gets No. 11 Georgetown, No. 17 Marquette and No. 10 Louisville.
The DePaul game will be the last Big East game held in the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse will leave the Big East for the ACC next season. Following that game will be Syracuse’s final regular-season game in the Big East with a showdown at Georgetown.
Before Syracuse can worry about any of those games, it must first concentrate on Providence, which is upset minded and has already proven in the first encounter that it is not afraid of the Orange.
What must Syracuse do to stay on task and avoid a Friar upset?
Let’s take a look.
Keep Michael Carter-Williams Passing the Ball and out of Foul Trouble
Since the beginning of the Big East season on Jan. 2, against Rutgers, Michael Carter-Williams has played in only four games in which he accrued fewer than five assists in a game.
Of those four games, three were Syracuse's only conference losses of the season.
The fourth game, which was this past Saturday against Seton Hall, Carter-Williams dished out three assists, but came through with 14 points, nine rebounds and shot 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Carter-Williams has led the NCAA in assists for the entire season until his three-assist game on Saturday dropped him to second with eight assists per game.
Where he ranks in the nation is irrelevant to Syracuse winning or losing, but another interesting stat is that in games when Carter-Williams gets frustrated, he tends to be overaggressive and sloppy on defense.
He’s been a fantastic defender, coming up with 3.1 steals per game, making him third in the nation in steals. In games where he becomes frustrated, he seems to rely on his defensive instincts and gets a little foul happy.
Starting with Syracuse’s first loss of the season, against Temple, Carter-Williams has had five games in which he committed four or more fouls.
Four of those five games were all four of Syracuse’s losses on the season.
The fifth was a very physical game against Louisville in which Carter-Williams overcame an eight-turnover performance with some late-game heroics to win the game for Syracuse.
These numbers aren’t the only factors in Syracuse’s four losses this season, but they do reinforce the fact that when Michael Carter-Williams plays poorly, Syracuse has a difficult time compensating.
Shut Down Bryce Cotton
Providence’s Bryce Cotton has been a scoring machine this season for the Friars to the tune of 20.4 points per game, making him the No. 12 scorer in the nation.
The junior guard lit up Syracuse with 24 points, including 5-of-8 three-point shooting, in the Friars’ six-point loss to the Orange on Jan. 9.
Cotton is only 6’1” but plays like a much bigger man as his 3.6 rebounds per game suggest. He is a 39 percent three-point shooter and an 80 percent free-throw shooter. Allowing Cotton to get comfortable could be problematic for the Orange.
Syracuse must take advantage of its superior size and limit Cotton’s open looks from behind the arc and must also keep him off the free-throw line, where he is equally troublesome.
Opposing guards have been the driving force in each of Syracuse’s four losses. Temple’s Khalif Wyatt, Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard, Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright and Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall put up 33, 25, 17 and 13 respectively, against the Orange.
Woodall’s 13 may not seem like much, but he was the only Pitt player to reach double figures in the 65-55 loss for the Orange.
Syracuse would do well to control Cotton early and often.
Keep It Doubly Fair
Against Seton Hall on Saturday, junior C.J. Fair had his eighth double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Fair’s effort had a similar result to the previous seven double-doubles he had this season and the two he had last season.
They all led to wins.
One of Fair’s double-doubles this season came on Jan. 9, against the Providence Friars. Worth mentioning is Fair’s stellar performance at the free-throw line with a 9-of-10 performance, but his timely scoring and aggressive rebounding have been godsends for Syracuse.
Fair is second on the team in scoring, with 14 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 7.3 per game. With those numbers, Fair has at least a puncher’s chance to clean the glass against Providence.
When C.J. Fair gets a double-double, which is almost a third of the time that the Orange step on the court, Syracuse wins by an average of 21.75 points.
Using Fair in the offense isn’t rocket science. An active C.J. Fair pushes the rest of the team to do well. The important thing about Fair being active is that when Syracuse is slumping or shots aren’t falling, Fair will grab a timely rebound or throw down an athletic dunk and put the stagnant offense on his back until the team comes around.
Fair isn’t the most vocal player on the court, but his actions speak volumes.
They Can't Drive 55
The key to Providence’s four-game win streak has been its defense. Providence has held its last four opponents to an average of 55.5 points per game, with South Florida being the anomaly, tallying 66.
Syracuse has been held to as few as 55 by an opponent just four times going back five years to February of 2008, with the Orange winning three of the four.
The lone loss did happen to come this season in a 10-point loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 2, 65-55.
Providence only averages 68.1 points per game and has scored more than 73 points just five times this season. This means that while Providence has a couple great scorers in Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts, it is not a high-scoring team.
Syracuse puts up 74.8 points per game and can win the game by making quality passes, not turning the ball over and being resistant to sloppy play.
Win the Battle of the Guards
Syracuse’s guard tandem of Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams is one of the premier pairs in the NCAA.
Providence’s pair of Bryce Cotton and Vincent Council might be just as good.
Cotton and Council’s season averages give a peek into the talent level of the two Friars.
Combined on the season, Cotton and Council’s per-game averages are 29.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 10.1 assists, 2.2 steals and 4.3 turnovers.
Triche and Carter-Williams’ per-game averages are 27.5 points, 11.7 assists, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 6.1 turnovers.
The stats only tell a part of the picture, but the given image is not too far from the truth.
Providence’s guards are a little better in the scoring department while the Syracuse guards are better defenders. The height of the Orange guards gives them the rebounding advantage but assists are where the story gets interesting.
Vincent Council has 424 assists in his Big East career, only two shy of the career mark of 426, set by Syracuse’s Sherman Douglas back in 1989.
In all likelihood, Council will get this record on General Sherman’s former home court.
Carter-Williams fancies himself as one of the best assist men in the country. It’s hard to imagine him, or Triche for that matter, not putting a little extra effort into the defensive end to not be shown up on their own court with a Providence Friar breaking one of the great records of Syracuse lore.
If Syracuse does nothing else, winning the battle of the guards should be enough to come away with a win.