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Game Preview: UNC vs. Syracuse

The Heels look like they are in the zone as they travel to Syracuse to take on the Orange.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels have caught fire during the last stretch of the regular season, and look to keep their streak alive tonight when they take on the Syracuse Orange.

Things are tight in the ACC standings from top to bottom, with the exception of the the number one team in the conference in Virginia, and the last place team in Pittsburgh. Each win is crucial for every team, as everyone is trying to get at least one bye in the ACC tournament. For UNC, they are in good position to get a double-bye, but every single game going forward is a must-win as Clemson ties the Heels in total losses, and there are three other teams that are only one game back. Thankfully UNC owns two of the three tie-breakers, but one would hope it doesn’t need to come down to that.

Syracuse has had a very middle-of-the-road season in the ACC thus far, and this game will be the beginning of a four-game gauntlet. Three of their final four games of the regular season are against AP top 15 opponents in UNC, Duke, and Clemson, with the only outlier being Boston College. Their best wins in conference play so far have been against Virginia Tech and Louisville, and in non-conference they weren’t able to achieve any higher quality of wins than that. Syracuse would have to pull out all of the stops to close out the regular season, and realistically, defeat a couple more ranked teams in the ACC tournament if they want to make it to the big dance without winning the conference tournament altogether. Even then, winning the tournament might be their only option.

By now we have all become rather acquainted with Jim Boeheim and his 2-3 zone defense that he brought over from the Big East a few years back. There’s not really much to dig into there, though I will say that UNC is more built this year to rip it apart than they have been in past years. That’s saying a lot, seeing how the only game the Heels have lost against the Orange once since they came over from the Big East, and that was their very first ACC meeting in the Carrier Dome. Four out of five starters for UNC are perimeter shooters, with all five being able to knock down shots inside the ACC logo of the zone. If Syracuse stands a chance to win this game, they’re going to have to figure out how to force some turnovers and minimize the damage on the boards.

Speaking of the boards, Syracuse is tied for 131st in the country for defensive rebounding. Inversely, North Carolina is 6th in the country in offensive rebounding, and so we can expect the Heels to have similar production on the boards to what they had against Louisville, and really, to what they’ve had all year. UNC is currently leading the country in total rebounding, averaging 43.3 per contest. Expect the trend to continue, and expect Syracuse to have a very frustrating night.

When it comes down to it: UNC should win this game. Tyus Battle will do his best to keep Syracuse in this game, but UNC has too much firepower and has been locking down on defense. Luke Maye is coming off another double-double, Theo Pinson is coming off of one of his best games in a Carolina blue uniform, and Joel Berry II is somehow looking better than he has all season despite playing such a large amount of minutes down the stretch. The Carrier Dome will be loud, it will be packed, and will likely be a bit hostile, but I would expect that to not last long and for the Heels to keep the streak alive going into Theo and Joel’s senior night.

UNC 83, Syracuse 70