Jim Boeheim doesn't believe in trap games.
He told Syracuse.com, per Donna Ditota, there is "no such thing as a trap game for a coach." He said players and coaches realize every game, especially every road game, is difficult.
But when Boeheim's undefeated Syracuse Orange (19-0, 6-0) arrive in Winston-Salem, all of the components will be in place for Syracuse to get tripped up.
Wake Forest is unranked, but the Demon Deacons haven't lost a home game all year. With the second-ranked and ACC-leading Orange in town, this will easily be the biggest game of the season for Wake, and a victory would be a feather in the cap Wake can use for its tournament resume.
At 4-3 in ACC play, a Deacons win would put them right back in the thick of the conference race. And Syracuse will be trying to match the best start in school history, as well as possibly (whether they admit it or not) looking ahead to the clash with Duke on Saturday.
Add all of that up and you definitely have all the ingredients necessary for an Admiral Ackbar special.
With Virginia, Duke and Pittsburgh right on Syracuse's heels in the ACC, the Orange can't afford to let a winnable game slip away. So how can Syracuse avoid a letdown before the showdown? Let's go over a few keys to keep Syracuse from falling into the trap.
This is partially for Tyler Ennis, but each player needs to have his mind in the right place. Wake Forest is the only team Syracuse should be concerned with.
In the aforementioned Syracuse.com story, Boeheim talked about his team's mindset.
We don't talk about where we are, what our ranking is. We just talk about that next team we gotta play. I know Wake Forest has not lost at home this year. They beat Duke there. They're very hard to beat at home. That's what we'll focus on. That's all we'll be thinking about this week. This team is very good at that.
Duke hasn't visited Wake Forest yet this year, but Wake did beat North Carolina at home. Either way, Boeheim sounds confident his team will be in the right place mentally. The guy has the Carrier Dome court named after him, so we will trust him on that one.
And as for Ennis, he will face one of his toughest tests yet. There were a surprising amount of Syracuse faithful in the Orange's last game against Miami, so it wasn't as hostile an environment as it could have been.
But Wake Forest is in the heart of ACC country. The Syracuse contingent will likely be sparse at best and the crowd will be raucous as the Deacons try to once again defend their home court.
How Ennis handles enemy territory will have a huge impact on the game. If he continues to play calmly under pressure, the Orange should have no problem heading home with a win. But he has to make sure the offense doesn't hit a speed bump for any significant stretch. Speaking of which...
Have A Lead Foot
Down in Miami, the Orange got out to an early 18-point lead before letting the U make a game of it for most of the second half. Syracuse's offense seemed to stall and a combination of turnovers and poor execution allowed Miami to hang around.
If Syracuse builds an early lead against Wake Forest, the Orange cannot afford to take their foot off the gas pedal. If the opportunity to put the game out of reach presents itself, Syracuse needs to seize it. Complacency with a lead is not an option, and if Syracuse leaves the door open at all, the home crowd can swing the momentum against Syracuse at a moment's notice.
We know by now that Syracuse will be able to lean on its defense in big spots. But the Orange have to make sure they finish possessions on defense. There's only one way to do that.
This is something we've harped on in the past, but as Pat Riley once said, "no rebounds, no rings." Gregg Popovich will confirm.
Wake Forest surely knows how to hit the glass. The Deacons are fourth in the ACC in rebounding, pulling in about 39 boards a game. That is ahead of the Orange, who get about 35 a game, and the Pittsburgh Panthers, who beat up the Orange on the glass a few games back. Pitt was this close to riding that rebounding edge to a victory in the Dome.
With Travis McKie (6'7"), Devin Thomas (6'9") and Tyler Cavanaugh (6'9"), Wake has the size to contend with the Orange inside. Thomas grabs 8.5 rebounds a game, which is almost two more than any Syracuse player. McKie was named the ACC's co-player of the week last week.
Syracuse can't afford to let Wake run wild on the offensive glass. Second-chance opportunities can be had against a zone, and easy putbacks can keep Wake (and the crowd) in the game. The Orange defense will be unlike anything Wake has seen, but the defense can only be effective if Syracuse follows the good defense with good rebounding.
As a final note, look for Cavanaugh to have a big game when Syracuse comes to town. The sophomore went to Jamesville-Dewitt High School, which is the same school that produced Syracuse standouts Andy Rautins, Brandon Triche and DaJuan Coleman. Cavanaugh will certainly be juiced up to try and knock off his hometown team.
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