After a tough loss to Virginia Tech this week, the Jackets look to bounce back on Saturday against Syracuse. Before the game, we sat down with James Szuba from Nunes Magician to get his insight on what he expects when the Orange and Jackets clash in Syracuse.
FTRS: What are your thoughts on this year’s Syracuse team? Are fans hoping for a tournament run in March?
Syracuse began the season ranked in the AP top 25 and expectations were high given all five starters from the 2018 Sweet 16 squad returned while Elijah Hughes and Jalen Carey joined the fold.
The Orange struggled out of the gate without Frank Howard, going 2-2 in his absence and have struggled to play up to their ability. It looks as though Syracuse is just starting to put the pieces together and at the right time, jumping out to 2-0 in ACC play. So, yes, Syracuse fans are very hopeful for an NCAA Tournament appearance and another run in 2019.
FTRS: That Syracuse zone is once again one of the top defenses in the country. What makes it so hard to attack?
For starters, Syracuse plays it almost exclusively (except when pressing) and practices it industriously. The coaching staff recruits long, athletic players who can cover ground and get out to shooters while also making plays at the rim defensively. Syracuse is also the tallest team in the country for the second year in a row - guards Frank Howard and Tyus Battle are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively.
Sometimes there’s also a psychological effect from other teams that overthink the zone, which is hard to quantify.
The zone can also change form and Boeheim will make adjustments. Against Notre Dame, TJ Gibbs hit five first half threes and Syracuse adjusted to unconventionally give up the middle to get out to shooters. That made a difference in the game.
FTRS: Tyus Battle is one of the top scorers in the country. What makes him so tough to defend?
With Tyus, opposing defenses are forced to pick their poison. You can guard him close, but he’ll blow by and get to the rim. Teams can play off, but he can shoot from deep and he has a great mid-range game with a deadly step-back. He shoots the floater pretty well in the lane, too.
He’s also virtually unstoppable in the open floor. Battle will either get to the rim, the free throw line or both.
FTRS: East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes has been a huge contributor for the Orange so far this year. What skill-set does he bring to the team and what makes his game effective?
Hughes has been unbelievably consistent for Syracuse this year. He’s the best shooter on this team and finds a way to get in double digits every night. He’s starting to rebound the ball at an impressive rate, too.
FTRS: Outside of Battle, Hughes, and Brissett, what other players contribute and what does each of them bring to the team when they’re on the floor?
Those three carry the load in the scoring column but Syracuse can hurt you in other ways. Marek Dolezaj is a swiss arm knife (in Slovakian form) who does it all. He’s a great glue guy who stuffs the stat sheet.
Howard averaged almost 15 points and 5 assists last year. He’s been plagued with an ankle injury that required surgery in the preseason, but looks as though he’s rounding in to form. Boeheim says he’s getting there and Frank says each game feels like his best.
Jalen Carey is a quick freshman guard off the bench who can push tempo and score the ball.
FTRS: Finally, who wins and by how much?
I’ll take Syracuse by double digits at home here in a battle of two of the lesser offensive squads in the league. The Orange have played two of its best games against ACC competition and look for that to continue. It’s going to be a big ask for Jose Alvarado to come in and make this game competitive.
Many thanks to James for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to check out some Syracuse coverage over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.