Wake Forest (7-6, 0-1) came up just short of a major upset this past weekend when it allowed North Carolina to score the final eight points of the game to steal a 73-69 victory. Tonight it will get another chance to get its first “notch in the belt” type victory when the Syracuse Orange (12-2, 1-0) visit Winston-Salem.
The game will air on ESPNU at 7 PM and features two vastly different teams. As we all know, Wake Forest thrives on offense, where it has the 31st most efficient offense in the nation, but struggles immensely on defense, ranking 168th nationally.
The Orange are the reverse of the Deacs, putting up the 13th ranked defense nationally behind Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense, but is just 99th nationally on the offensive side of things.
Vegas has the Deacs as a two point favorite, while KenPom likes the home team by one point.
Syracuse is basically a six-man team at this point, ranking 345th nationally in bench minutes. The Orange rely heavily on its five starters and then freshman Marek Dolezaj off the bench to spell Pascal Chukwu at the center position.
To help accentuate this point, in its ACC opening 68-56 win over Virginia Tech this weekend, the Orange played three guys all forty minutes in PG Frank Howard, SG Tyus Battle, and SF/PF Oshae Brissett.
Boeheim also played Matthew Moyer 37 minutes, while Dolezaj and Chukwu played 21 mins a piece with Howard Washington getting one minute.
Playing a zone defense certainly helps keep guys fresh, but given the amount of work that the Orange do on that side of the court it is pretty impressive to have a minute workload of that caliber.
Tyus Battle leads the Orange in scoring at 19.9 points per game, while Frank Howard chips in 15.3 PPG to go with 6 assists per game.
While the Orange may not be great offensively, one area they are very good in is offensive rebounding, ranking third nationally by grabbing almost 40% of its misses. Wake Forest ranks 250th nationally on the defensive boards, so this could be an issue.
It is relieving to see that the Orange are shooting a woeful 30% from behind the arc as a team, with nobody shooting over 35%. To contrast, Wake has 5 players shooting over 38%, with three of those taking a lot of shots in Keyshawn Woods, Brandon Childress, and Mitchell Wilbekin.
If Wake Forest wants to get its first ACC win of the season then it will need to figure out how to attack and score against the stifling 2-3 zone of Syracuse. There are several different ways to do this, but the “easiest” is to try to get the ball into the middle of the zone and then either throw a lob to Doral Moore or kick it out to one of the good three-point shooters on the team.
On the season the Orange have the 13th best 2-pt% defense in the nation at 42.5%, and the 90th best 3-pt% defense in the nation at 33%.
Syracuse has seemingly figured out how to rebound successfully out of the zone defense as well, ranking 41st nationally by limiting opposing offenses to rebound just 25% of their misses.
Overall I think this will be a close, back-and-forth game between the Deacs and the Orange and could really see it going either way. Moore will have to stay out of foul trouble inside to help the Deacs compete from a length standpoint, as the Orange are the 6th tallest team in the country in effective height, and the tallest team as far as average height goes.
It will likely be a bit of a slog at times, as Syracuse is the 10th slowest team in the nation, ranking 317th in offensive average possession length and 206th in defensive possession length. The Deacs will need to be patient and not get frustrated with the pace.