Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

  • The Orange control tempo and don’t turn the ball over. Syracuse doesn’t turn the ball over at an exaggerated rate (its season average of 18.2 percent is in the middle nationally) and North Carolina isn’t particularly prolific in forcing giveaways (they force turnovers on 18.4 percent of possessions), but ball control will be a key component in this game. Few teams should want to play a full-court game with the Tar Heels, but Syracuse is a particularly excellent candidate to be terrified to get into a track meet. Boeheim has stuck to a tight six- or seven-man rotation; the fatigue and foul trouble that high-possession games bring could cripple a thin Syracuse team. They also don’t have the offensive firepower to manage such an affair, and the 2-3 zone has excelled in forcing opponents into long, unproductive possessions. Every opportunity for Syracuse to slowly fall back into its half-court defense will be a win for the Orange. Do it often enough and Boeheim’s team could have a real shot to win this thing.

North Carolina Will Win If…

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

  • It shoots well from the outside. North Carolina’s offense reaches an even higher level of efficiency when the Tar Heels make perimeter jump shots. It is the clear weakness of an otherwise strong team and Syracuse’s zone will invite Roy Williams’ team to bomb away from deep. It would be stunning if Syracuse does not employ a game plan that packs the paint and forces North Carolina to beat it from the outside by shooting over the top. In two games against Syracuse this season, North Carolina shot the ball poorly from deep, to the tune of 9-of-41 combined (22%). If Marcus Paige and the Tar Heels shoot a good percentage from the three-point line tonight, they are very likely to advance to the National Championship game.
  • Brice Johnson dominates. Johnson played well in the two regular season matchups with the Orange and the nation’s most dominant big man could be the key player in this game, especially on the glass. Syracuse is one of the nation’s worst defensive rebounding teams, allowing opponents to grab 34.9 percent of their missed shots. Second chance points are a critical part of North Carolina’s offense — not surprising for the most efficient team in the nation on that end of the floor. The Tar Heels rebound 40.3 percent of their misses with Johnson contributing to much of that — he makes attaining a double-double look easy (he has 23 this year alone) and adding a 24th could very well send his team to Monday night’s final.
  • It keeps Syracuse’s three-point shooters in check. North Carolina has had significant difficulty defending the three-point line this season and threes are a key part of Syracuse’s offensive game plan. The Orange shot poorly in both regular season meetings between these two teams, allowing North Carolina to overcome some of its own poor outside shooting to win both games. Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson are all high-volume shooters from the perimeter with Gbinije leading the way with a 40 percent success rate. Even Tyler Lydon can step out and knock down a three-ball so North Carolina must be ready. While Syracuse has shot a decent percentage from deep in this Tournament, it hasn’t yet had a lights-out shooting game. You could say that the Orange are due for a hot shooting game, so the Tar Heels must be focused defensively. A big night from beyond the arc could very well vault Syracuse into the national title game.
BHayes (244 Posts)

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