After leaving Hawaii with the Maui Invitational championship, the Syracuse basketball team now sets its sights on a clash with Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The showdown at the Carrier Dome is set for a 7:15 p.m. ET start Tuesday on ESPN. After bowing out to Syracuse in last year's NCAA tournament, Tom Crean's bunch will be out for revenge against the Orange.
Both teams moved up in this week's USA Today coaches poll. Indiana jumped from 25th to 23rd and Syracuse elevated into the Top Five, coming in at 5th. On paper, Syracuse looks like the better team, and the Orange will surely have the advantage with their home fans behind them. But Indiana has the pieces to steal one on the road.
Let's take a look at a few keys to Syracuse notching one for the ACC on Tuesday night.
Indiana comes into this matchup ranked 328th in Division I in turnovers per game. In coughing it up 15.9 times a night, the Hoosiers allow their opponents plenty of extra possessions. This plays right into Syracuse's hands as the Orange are third in the country in turnover ratio, forcing 122 turnovers while giving it up only 68 times.
If the Orange are able to force Indiana into lots of miscues, it will present plenty of opportunities for transition, where according to Hoop-Math, Syracuse has an effective field-goal percentage of 55.2 percent. Run-outs off of steals will allow Syracuse to get good looks, such as open threes to Trevor Cooney spotting up on the wing or dunks from rim-running forwards.
Additionally, forcing turnovers will take away opportunities for Indiana to score and give Syracuse more possessions. Since the Orange sometimes struggle to find an offensive rhythm, getting more opportunities on the offense end while simultaneously taking opportunities away from Indiana can help keep the Hoosiers at bay.
Rebound, Rebound, Rebound
While Indiana does have a pathetic national ranking when it comes to turnovers, there is one area where the Hoosiers are unmatched: rebounds. Indiana paces the nation by pulling down more than 50 rebounds per game. They clean more glass than the window washer at the Empire State Building.
When you compare Indiana's number to Syracuse's 36 rebounds per contest, there is a clear discrepancy.
If Syracuse forces a bunch of turnovers but gets outworked on the glass, all of the turnovers will be for naught. We've already discussed some potential reasons for Syracuse's lackluster output on the boards, so the Orange need to be sure hitting the boards, more than blocking shots, is their number one priority.
If Noah Vonleh comes in, dominates the paint and grabs offensive board after offensive board, whatever possessions Indiana loses to turnovers will be balanced by second-chance opportunities. And speaking of Vonleh...
Yeah, Stop Noah Vonleh
At 6'10" and 240 pounds, Vonleh is a post presence unlike any the Orange have faced thus far. Despite being just a freshman (who, incidentally, also considered and visited Syracuse), Vonleh averages 12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. If he is allowed to get loose underneath, it could be a long, cold night in Syracuse.
So far this year, Indiana hasn't been a great long-range shooting team, making only 28 percent of its treys. Therefore, while the Orange shouldn't neglect to defend the three-point shot, interior defense should be the priority.
This could be a game where DaJuan Coleman sees his workload increase. Coleman is the only Orange center with the body to handle Vonleh physically. Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are more finesse big men, whereas Coleman is more of a bruiser. If Vonleh gets off to a hot start, Jim Boeheim may be forced to stay with Coleman to try and push Vonleh off his spots.
But stopping Vonleh can be done in other ways besides slowing down his offensive game. In Indiana's lone loss this season, a one-point defeat at the hands of UConn, Vonleh logged only 10 minutes due to foul trouble. He picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, before either team had even scored a point. He also got his third less than two minutes into the second half.
It's hard to have your way in the paint when you're watching from the bench.
If Syracuse can get Vonleh into foul trouble early on, the Orange will have a much easier time on both ends. This, again, is where Coleman could come in. An offensive rebound or a post-up that draws a foul on Vonleh could be huge, even if Coleman bricks both free throws. Boeheim would trade the two points for an extended stretch with Vonleh as a spectator.
It will be important for Syracuse to attack the rim and force Vonleh to defend shot after shot. Syracuse isn't much of a three-point shooting team. In fact, Trevor Cooney is the only player who has attempted more than 18 threes on the season. Therefore, the inside game is where Syracuse will win.
If C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis and Cooney are all aggressively attacking the paint, it could lead to foul trouble for Vonleh, and Indiana as a whole. If Crean has to go extended stretches with his best weapon on the pine, he could quickly find himself having flashbacks to March.