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Wake Forest vs. Syracuse Preview: How Well Can Wake Attack the 2-3 Zone?

Our official preview of Saturday's contest against the Orange.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons host the Syracuse Orange today in a what is a pivotal matchup for the two teams. The Deacs enter Saturday's contest with an overall record of 10-6, but are just 1-3 in ACC play, and have a very difficult stretch coming up. Meanwhile, Syracuse is 11-7 overall, but just 1-4 overall. If either team wants to get to postseason play, then Saturday's game is pivotal. How do the teams match up?

Syracuse ranks dead last nationally in bench minutes. Both Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney (who has to be in his third year at Syracuse's law school by now) average more than 36 minutes per game. The other three starters (Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lodon) all average more than 30 minutes per contest. Given that Wake Forest is very good at getting to the foul line, and is a deeper team, this should be advantageous for the Demon Deacons.

After hours of pouring over game film, I discerned that Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone defense. If you end up playing a drinking game where you drink every time the announcers say "zone" or "2-3," then I recommend taking the rest of January off from work. Last year I wrote an in-depth piece on how to attack Syracuse's zone. Obviously the personnel has changed, but it's still worth a read.

Wake has the personnel to beat the zone. They have three legitimate three-point shooters in the starting lineup, Devin Thomas is a very willing passer out of the post, and Codi Miller-McIntyre is very effective at the high post in the zone attack. Dinos Mitoglou scored 26 points in an 86-83 loss at Syracuse last season. While I don't expect him to have as dominant of a performance, I do think he'll play a critical role against the Orange. Mitchell Wilbekin went 3-5 from beyond the arc against Virginia Tech. If the sophomore from Gainesville can knock down shots, that will give more room for Devin Thomas to operate on the inside.

An interesting thing to watch in this game will be pace. Wake Forest has the 65th shortest average offensive possession length, while Syracuse has the longest average defensive possession length. Ideally Wake Forest can create transition opportunities and not have to operate against the zone. Still, it may turn out to be a blessing that Wake Forest is forced to take on time on offense, as they have a tendency to rush and get careless. Still, Wake will probably be pretty vulnerable when Cuse looks to trap on the wing. They have to read the defense and move the ball quickly to avoid traps and turnovers. The Syracuse length really allows them to force turnovers. While the team doesn't have anyone over 6'9", they also don't have anyone under 6'3".

A major weakness of Syracuse's zone defense, and all zones really, is that they struggle to grab defensive rebounds due to not being assigned a man to box out. Cuse is 329th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, while Wake Forest is 37th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. If Wake struggles to connect on shots, they should hopefully be able to rely on grabbing boards and getting second chance opportunities.

Syracuse is led offensively by Michael "real G's move in silence" Gbinije. The senior averages 17.3 points and 4.5 assists per game. He's 6'7" and creates a matchup problem. My best guess is that Danny Manning will put Codi Miller-McIntyre on him, much like he did when he put the senior on Ben Simmons, but this will be no small task for CMM.

The Orange love them some three point attempts. They have the 26th highest ratio of three point field goal attempts to total field goal attempts in the country. Wake's perimeter players are going to have to do an excellent job of staying in front of their man, because if help comes from one pass away, that could mean a lot of three pointers being hoisted up.

I could easily see either team winning this game by 10+ points. We'll find out what happens at noon. As always, go Deacs!