Syracuse Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Louisville in Big East Showdown
The No. 1 Louisville Cardinals will play host to the No. 6 Syracuse Orange this Saturday in what is shaping up to be appointment television.
These two were expected to sit atop the Big East so it's no surprise they are first or second in the league in scoring offense, scoring margin and steals. They are each in the top four in scoring defense, rebound margin, turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.
There may not be two coaches in college basketball that know each other better than Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Louisville's Rick Pitino. When Boeheim took over the Orange in 1976, his first hire was Pitino. Their battles include a 1-1 record against each other in Final Fours.
It's not often that either coach sees his match on the other bench, but that will be the case on Saturday. That being said, here are the five keys to Syracuse beating Louisville.
Win the Turnover Battle
With his Wildcats ahead at halftime on Saturday, Villanova coach Jay Wright said the key was protecting the ball in the second half because Syracuse is great at transition points off of turnovers. Wright proved prophetic as the Orange outscored Villanova off of turnovers 16-3 in beating the Wildcats, 72-61.
Welcome to key No. 1 for the Orange this Saturday against Louisville. Breaking the press and protecting the ball will be critical for Syracuse. As good as the Orange are in this category, the Cardinals are right there with them.
Louisville leads the Big East in turnover margin at plus-7.53. The Orange are third at plus-4.65. Syracuse is second in rebound margin at plus-8.8, while Louisville is fourth at plus-6.4. Louisville is first in steals at 11.4 per game while Syracuse is second at 10.7. The two are tied for third in assists-to-turnover ratio at 1.2.
Syracuse will have to successfully break Louisville's press and run an efficient half-court offense, and the guards will have to make sure to get back to prevent run-outs.
Win the Battle of Backcourts
The Orange can't win with the Brandon Triche of the past two games. He was ineffective against Providence and on the bench with foul trouble against Villanova. They need to see the Triche who was Big East Player of the Week after his play against Rutgers and South Florida.
The Cardinals have a dynamic backcourt with Russ Smith averaging 18.9 points per game and Peyton Siva averaging 11.8 points and 5.6 assists per game.
The issue here will be depth. Triche averages 31.2 minutes per game while Michael Carter-Williams averages 33.2. Trevor Cooney played better against Villanova but is only averaging 13.6 minutes per game and has been erratic at best shooting and protecting the basketball.
Siva plays 29.4 minutes per game and Smith 27.6. Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock have been reliable off the bench for the Cardinals.
If one backcourt dominates the other, the game is over. The Orange need Triche and Carter-Williams on the court and effective.
Is Jerami Grant for Real?
With second-leading scorer James Southerland sidelined because of an eligibility issue, freshman Jerami Grant will be thrust into a critical role. He came through on short notice against Villanova with a strong 13 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.
Can he do it again?
His season averages are 12.2 minutes, 4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Yes, he had a great game against Villanova, but that was at home. The road will be a much tougher test, as will the opponent. Grant's 6'8", 203-pound frame will be pushed around by Chane Behanan, 6'6", 250 pounds, and Wayne Blackshear, 6'5", 230 pounds.
Grant will need to make sure he plays under control and doesn't let the game get too fast for him. If he can do that, he has the athleticism to come through again for the Orange.
This Is DaJuan Coleman's Time to Break out
Coleman came in with the high expectations placed on a McDonald's All-American. He's had flashes of good play, but has fallen a bit short of those expectations.
He'll face his toughest challenge in Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, who averages 10.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. It will be critical for Coleman to hold his own against Dieng and neutralize him on the boards to help slow down the Cardinals' transition game.
In order to do that, Coleman will have to take it to Dieng. He has the ability to score more than his average of 5.7 points per game. The sticky issue here is that the more aggressive Coleman is offensively, the more likely he ends up on the free-throw line, where he's only hitting 46.3 percent of his attempts.
I've watched Coleman through high school and there's no reason for his percentage to be so low from the line. He has a nice touch out to the three-point line, and I fully expect him to improve.
Don't Feel the Pressure of the Crowd
The Carrier Dome is one of the best home-crowd advantages in college basketball. The Orange averaged 23,618 last year, second in the nation. Third in the country? Louisville at 21,503.
How the Orange's young players respond to the loud crowd will be a key factor in this game. Syracuse starts two sophomores and a freshman and will be relying on two more freshmen off the bench on Saturday.
The Orange started the season on an aircraft carrier against then-20th-ranked San Diego State and came away with a nice 62-49 win. Their next road test was at Arkansas, now 10-5, and the Orange won that one, 91-82.
But in their past two Big East road games, they've struggled, with a very sloppy 55-44 win against South Florida and an ugly 72-66 win against Providence.
Triche and CJ Fair have the experience to shut out the noise but the game will come down to how Carter-Williams, Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney handle it.