For the first time since December 29th, and just the second time since the first weekend of December, the Tar Heels will play at home, when they host Syracuse tomorrow afternoon in the Smith Center. During Carolina’s time away from home, they earned three wins at Pittsburgh, Clemson, and NC State, to propel the Tar Heels to the top of the ACC standings, and inside the top 10 of the AP Poll. The 4-0 start in ACC play is the best since 2015-16, when UNC started 8-0 in league play, and would go on to win the ACC regular season and tournament titles.
Syracuse is 11-4, under first-year head coach Adrian Autry. Autry took over for the legendary Jim Boeheim after he was forced into retirement after over 40 years on the sidelines. The Orange are led in scoring by Judah Mintz, who averages over 18 points per game, the highest of the four players on the roster that average double figures scoring. They’ve lost both of their road games in league play, and neither were close, closing 84-62 at Virginia, and 86-66 and Duke. While there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played, Syracuse needs a win over a team like UNC if they want to have a legit resume come NCAA Tournament time.
After three straight road games to open up the new year, Carolina will be excited to be back home, as virtually every ranked team has struggled away from home in conference play. While the Tar Heels don’t need to be worried about the polls, a win over the Orange could propel UNC inside the top 5, and make them even more of a legit contender to win a national championship. Here’s how they can continue their hot start to ACC play:
Limit Turnovers: Carolina won at NC State the other night, despite turning it over 13 times. The Wolfpack may not have been able to make Carolina pay for their miscues, but Syracuse is more than capable of doing so. The Orange average over 9 steals per game, which is inside the top 20 in all of college basketball. Overall they force 15 turnovers per game, one of the highest totals in the conference. All of that means that Carolina needs to value possessions and make sure they aren’t playing into Syracuse’s hands. While Adrian Autry still utilizes the 2-3 that Jim Boeheim made famous, Syracuse will play man-to-man, and extend their defense in the half-court. This is where Carolina’s ability to play with multiple ball handlers will come in handy, and hopefully, that will help limit their turnovers in this game.
Limit Judah Mintz: Mintz is as good a scorer in the ACC, as he averages over 18 points per game. During Carolina’s winning streak, they’ve been propelled by steady defense, allowing just 59 points per game. While doing that, they’ve also limited other big-time scorers like Blake Hinson from Pittsburgh and PJ Hall from Clemson. One reason Carolina has been able to not get burnt by the opposition's best players has been due to their ability to use multiple defenders, wearing them down as the game moves along. Cormac Ryan will most likely draw the assignment of Mintz but expect Hubert Davis to put Seth Trimble on him when Trimble enters the game off the bench. It’s going to be impossible to take Mintz completely out of the game, but as Carolina has done in recent games, they need to ensure that Syracuse’s best player doesn’t put together the type of game that could allow them to upset UNC in Chapel Hill.
Play Inside-Out: Carolina’s defense has been the talking point in their last five wins, but it has masked the offensive struggles in ACC play. In their three road wins, Carolina’s highest point total was 70 at Pittsburgh, and they haven’t shot better than 42% in any game. Carolina needs to get back to the basics on offense, playing inside-out, and playing through Armando Bacot first and foremost. Syracuse may have more size than normal, but this is still a team that struggles to keep opponents out of the lane. If Carolina can look to score inside first, it’ll help free up R.J. Davis and Cormac Ryan on the perimeter, helping Carolina’s offense to its efficient ways from earlier in the season.
UNC is 16-6 all-time against Syracuse, as the Tar Heels have never lost at home to the Orange. Since Syracuse joined the ACC, Carolina is 12-3. This is the first time the two schools have played without Jim Boeheim as their head coach, since 1975.
North Carolina - 9th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.4 (14th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.5 (8th)
Syracuse - 76th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 106.8 (143rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.8 (38th)
North Carolina - 9th.
Syracuse - 75th.
Saturday’s game will tip at 12 PM on ESPN.
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