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Heel Tough Blog: Syracuse Preview

Rebecca Blackwell - AP

Following their win at Miami over the weekend, the Tar Heels are back on the road tonight, taking on a Syracuse team, looking for a win to salvage what’s become a lost season. Carolina’s win over the Hurricanes improved them to 19-5 (11-2) on the season, as they still have a one-game lead for first place in the ACC, with a trip to Virginia looming, meaning Carolina needs to keep pace until that showdown with the Cavaliers. The win also improved UNC’s road record to 6-1, which is very impressive in a season where ranked teams are dropping like flies on the road this season. A win tonight would secure a third straight 20-win season under Hubert Davis, something that not even Dean Smith or Roy Williams achieved. 

Earlier in the season, Syracuse may not have looked like an NCAA Tournament team, but if they won the games they were supposed to win, and got an upset or two along the way, they could’ve worked their way onto the bubble. Instead, the Orange are a modest 15-9, 6-7 in the league, and are likely headed to the NIT, instead of the NCAA Tournament. Adrian Autry has done a solid job in his first season, after taking over for Jim Boeheim. Judah Mintz is one of the more underrated guards in all of college basketball, and he leads Syracuse in scoring at over 18 points per game. JJ Starling joins him in the backcourt to form one of the better backcourt duos in the ACC. After losing at home to Clemson over the weekend, they’ll be eager to defend home court and earn a win that would salvage this season. 

These two teams met back in January, in a game that was over as soon as it started. Carolina cruised to a 103-67 win, the largest ACC win since a 42-point win over Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament back in 2021. Carolina scored over 50 points in both halves, scored well over 50 points in the paint, and won the rebounding margin 53-30. Carolina will look to replicate that same success on the road later tonight. 

Tonight is Carolina’s last road game before going to Charlottesville later this month, in a game that will likely determine who wins the ACC regular season. A win tonight can continue to build confidence that this team go on the road, go into any environment, and win no matter the circumstances. Here’s how Carolina can earn a regular season sweep of the Orange: 

  1. Contain Mintz & Starling: Back in the first matchup, Mintz was playing at a high level, while Starling was still adjusting to his new role, after transferring in from Notre Dame. You look up now, and Starling is averaging over 13 points per game, meaning he and Mintz combine to average more than 30 points per game. Over their last seven games, they are averaging 34 points as a duo, and are more than capable of shooting Syracuse to an upset win. It’s unclear at this moment if Seth Trimble will be able to play later tonight, adding pressure to Caolina’s backcourt, along with Cormac Ryan, to defend at a high level, individually and collectively. Carolina got punished by Miami’s two-man game in the first half, before ultimately shutting it down in the second half. They’ll need that type of effort tonight, against one of the better duos in the league. 

  2. Play Inside-Out: In the first matchup, Carolina scored 58 points in the paint, on their way to scoring 103 points in the blowout win. UNC only scored 24 points in the paint at Miami on Saturday, meaning that they didn't do a good job establishing Armando Bacot on the block, and the guards weren’t in attack mode. In preparing for this game, the primary focus needs to be to get Bacot involved from the opening tip, because Syracuse doesn’t have a big that can hold their own against him. Also, given how important Mintz and Starling are on the offensive end, it’s fair to say that they take possessions off defensively, and Carolina’s guards could take advantage of that. It might be asking too much to replicate the success from the first game, but Carolina needs to have the same focus and game plan from their blowout win back in January. 

  3. Win the Rebounding Battle: Not only did Carolina dominate the points in the paint, they dominated the glass as well, winning the battle on the boards 53-30. Syracuse was only suspect to giving up offensive rebounds while playing the famous 2-3 zone, but even though they don’t play that defense primarily anymore, this isn’t a roster built to dominate on the glass. In fact. Syracuse has a negative four rebounding margin, which means Carolina should once again dominate them on the glass. Winning the rebounding margin means that Carolina can control the pace of the game, but importantly, if they get to the offensive glass, it could help them overcome a potential bad shooting night, which is possible since they are playing in a dome setting. After back-to-back subpar rebounding games, expect a big performance tonight from Harrison Ingram. 

Series History:

  • Carolina is 17-6 all-time against Syracuse, having won three straight games, and they are 13-3 against the Orange since they joined the ACC. 


  • North Carolina - 8th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.0 (27th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.6 (6th)

  • Syracuse - 94th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 107.5 (148th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 (53rd) 


  • North Carolina - 10th. 

  • Syracuse - 91st. 

TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip at 7 PM on ESPN, as the first game of ESPN’s Super Tuesday coverage. 

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