The Syracuse Orange (22-6, 10-5 Big East) will aim to halt their two-game losing streak when they welcome the Louisville Cardinals to the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon.
Syracuse, currently tied with Notre Dame for fourth place, still has a chance to grab a piece of the Big East regular-season championship, although the odds weigh heavily against the Orange after back-to-back losses to Georgetown and Marquette.
Saturday will mark the second meeting this season between the Orange and Cardinals.
The two teams first played in Louisville back on January 19. Syracuse escaped with a 70-68 win over Rick Pitino’s squad, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. That loss started the Cardinals on a three-game losing streak.
Since the win, Syracuse hasn’t won more than two games in a row, while Louisville enters the contest having won seven of eight. Their only setback was an epic five overtime clash at Notre Dame.
If Syracuse is going to get back to its winning ways and start to build momentum for an NCAA Tournament run, it needs to start by getting the season sweep of the Cardinals.
To accomplish that feat, they’ll need a repeat performance of some of the positives that helped them beat Louisville the first time around.
Syracuse’s zone caused Louisville to struggle shooting the ball. The Cardinals converted only 40.7 percent of their shots, 24-of-59. Louisville also wasn’t exactly on fire from three-point leader, as it sank only seven of 20 attempts.
When Louisville makes shots, it has time to set up its press. The Cardinals have one of the best full court presses in the country. They force their opponents to play at a frenetic pace, resulting in scads of turnovers, which they turn into transition baskets. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If the Orange can force Louisville into another poor shooting day, not only will they diminish the effects of the Cardinals’ press, but they will be able to convert some of those misses into transition baskets of their own.
Equally important as keeping the Cardinals from getting hot from the field, Syracuse must make their share of baskets.
The Orange canned 24 of 49 shots, including 7-of-15 from beyond the arc. Syracuse equaled the number of Louisville’s triples. And that was without James Southerland, its best three-point shooter.
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams will have to be smart with the ball by getting it to his teammates when they are in optimal positions to score.
The Orange will also have to make enough threes to at least hang with Louisville in that department. Southerland will certainly have his say in that. Speaking of Southerland…
Even though Southerland missed the first game, Jerami Grant still hadn’t moved into the starting lineup. Fellow freshman Dajuan Coleman started at forward, thus allowing Grant to be the instant offense off the bench. Grant responded with 10 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
With Grant now starting, Southerland has returned to his familiar role of providing scoring punch from the bench. In the six games since his return to action, the senior is averaging 14 PPG and making 42 percent (20-of-48) of his threes.
Center Baye Keita also grabbed five boards in 19 minutes for Coach Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse won the battle of the boards last time against Louisville, 35-31. And they held their own on the offensive glass as the Cardinals only grabbed three more than the Orange, 14-11.
Of Louisville’s 31 rebounds, Chane Behanan (11) and Gorgui Dieng (eight) combined for 19. Eleven of those were on the offensive end. No other Cardinal had more than three total rebounds.
By contrast, Syracuse gang-rebounded the ball. C.J. Fair had a team-high of eight, while Rakeem Christmas and Brandon Triche each pulled down six. Grant (five) and the aforementioned Keita combined for 10 rebounds off the bench.
If Syracuse can out-rebound the Cardinals again, they’ll limit Louisville’s possessions and keep their running game in check.
Russ Smith was sensational for the Cardinals in the loss. The junior guard led all scorers with 25 points. Smith converted eight of his 18 shot attempts and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the free-throw line.
The problem was he didn’t have any help. No other Cardinal cracked double figures.
Guard Peyton Siva’s only points on the day were one made three-point basket. The senior missed eight of his nine, shots including 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also didn’t attempt a single free throw.
If the rest of Cardinals struggle to score again, Syracuse probably won’t care how much damage Smith does.
Syracuse needs Carter-Williams to play the entire game like he did in the second half of the first meeting (11 points and the go-ahead breakaway dunk).
The sophomore finished with 16 points, seven assists, four steals, four rebounds and even had two blocks for good measure. What the Orange don’t need are the eight turnovers he committed. Six of those came in a dreadful first half performance.
When Carter-Williams plays well, Syracuse usually wins. How he handles Louisville’s defensive pressure will directly impact whether the Orange win or lose.