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UNC vs. Syracuse: Three Things to Watch

The Tar Heels’ perimeter woes will be put to the test at Syracuse.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tar Heels rejoiced after the final horn sounded in their 80-69 win over NC State. The end of the game got quite chippy, especially after the injury to guard Terquavion Smith and the flagrant foul against Caleb Love.

Syracuse won’t have quite the same bad blood, but it can have just as much bad basketball. UNC has not hit its high gear shooting the basketball as it had at the end of last season, and the Carrier Dome, ahem—excuse me, the JMA Wireless Dome isn’t the best place to get right.

Syracuse has an identical conference record to Carolina and has lost to similar teams. Here are three things to watch as the Tar Heels and Orange look to climb to the top of the third-place ACC pile.

Can Carolina shoot the ball better?

Carolina emerged from their NC State clash with an emphatic win, but without a good way forward for their game tomorrow against Syracuse. As a team, UNC shot poorly from the field (37%) and especially from deep (22%), but did shoot a sterling 36-39 from the free throw line (92%).

Syracuse won’t foul as much as the Wolfpack—nobody really does. This means UNC needs to convert chances, especially at the rim. How well Armando Bacot can find space and either turn and score, or post and pass to cutters (as he did on a nice layup for RJ Davis) will dictate terms. Pete Nance driving into the paint (as he did with an alarming dunk on Ernest Ross) would also be a welcome addition.

If the Tar Heels don’t find space inside the 2-3 zone and start launching threes, then they absolutely must hit at a 40+% clip. With Puff Johnson out for the game, the prospect looks a bit more daunting.

Don’t get torched by Girard

Syracuse guard Joseph Girard is their leading scorer this year (17.5 ppg) and went absolutely gorilla mode against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Girard scores at all three levels, and the danger of his shot draws defenders to close out on pump fakes, which plays into his hands with quick, smart passes to the rim for easy dunks.

Leaky Black may get a look at him to stifle the Orange offense like he did to Virginia in last year’s ACC Tournament. If not, Davis and Love will have to give Girard their full attention.

Against the Yellow Jackets, Girard hit 6 of 10 three-pointers en route to 28 points. He also dropped seven assists, many in picture perfect spots near the rim. Brice Johnson would’ve loved playing with this guy.

Syracuse is not a one-trick pony, but bottling up Girard, or at least limiting his good looks, is imperative.

Jalen Washington breakout?

You know who is actually a great matchup against the Syracuse zone? Freshman Jalen Washington.

After missing the Boston College win and playing just five minutes against NC State, Washington should be fresh for the fight. His height should make him a rebounding threat, especially if Syracuse’s bigs are spaced further away from the rim.

But the most intriguing part of his game is his smooth jump shot. I’m not talking about his three-point shot, which is a supposedly effective weapon (he is yet to hit one in NCAA play), but his jab-step-into-jump-shot that he’s hit multiple times throughout the season.

If Washington can find the pockets of space in the middle of the zone, or take the traditional Brice Johnson/Theo Pinson role at the foul line, he could make a living shooting that shot. If Jalen hits four to six of those shots, and Syracuse adjusts by crowding him and leaving space for Bacot near the rim, Carolina could win this game going away.