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2016 NCAA Tournament Previews: Syracuse

The Hoos continue their NCAA Tournament run, facing ACC foe Syracuse in the Elite 8. The two teams faced off at JPJ in January, with the Hoos coming away with an 8 point lead. In fact, the Hoos are 3-0 against the Orange since Syracuse joined the ACC.

The Hoos bench will be key in this one, as they have a big depth advantage over the Orange.
The Hoos bench will be key in this one, as they have a big depth advantage over the Orange.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry for the lateness of this preview. That's what happens with these quick turnarounds, on a holiday weekend.

The Hoos and Orange know each fairly well at this point. Now that Syracuse is in the ACC, the two teams face each other ever year. Since joining the ACC, though, Syracuse has not beaten the Hoos. We took a look at the matchup history earlier today.

This year's matchup was mostly about 3 point shooting, and the teams combined to shoot 51 treys (making 21). Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson combined to shoot 11/19 from downtown for the Orange. The rest of the team was 2/11. Syracuse also shot just 8/24 (33%) from inside the arc and just 10/15 from the stripe. Despite the hot shooting duo, the Orange scored just 1.03 ppp (points per possession), well below their average of nearly 1.11 ppp.

The Hoos also shot well from outside, with Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes combining to go 7/15 from downtown. But the Hoos shot 17/26 from inside the arc (65%) and 15/21 from the FT line. That domination inside was the key that led the Hoos to an 8 point win. The Hoos scored 1.16 ppp, also below their season average of 1.19 ppp.

Those offensive efficiency numbers are telling in this matchup. The Hoos are 8th in the nation, while Syracuse is 53rd in the nation. That is, by far, the lowest of the teams in the Elite 8 (next lowest is Oklahoma, 13th in the nation). On the defensive side, though, Syracuse is 19th in the country. Though that is still 2nd to last among the Elite 8 teams, it is much more respectable than Notre Dame's 154th. The Hoos are 4th nationally in defensive efficiency.

Even though the Hoos are a 1 seed and Syracuse is a 10 seed, the Hoos have had the tougher path thus far. The Hoos have faced 3 teams seeded a combined 29 (16th seeded Hampton, 9th seeded Butler and 4th seeded Iowa St). Syracuse has faced a combined 33 (7th seeded Dayton, 15th seeded Middle Tennessee State and 11th seeded Gonzaga). Despite the tougher road, the Hoos have been more impressive, winning by an average of 19 points per game (versus 15.7 points per game for Cuse) and outscoring their opponents by .29 points per possession (versus .25 points per possession for Cuse).

One problem Syracuse has had this year, as pointed out in our 3 things piece, is defensive rebounding. Gonzaga rebounded 40% of their own misses. Even MTSU rebounded 38% of their misses, even in a 25 point loss. This is a weakness of Jim Boeheim's famous 2-3 zone. Zone defenses are notorious for being hard to rebound. Because each player isn't assigned to a man, sometimes guys get lost and don't get boxed out. Teams that really want to hit the offensive glass can send 2 or even 3 guys to one side of the rim and there aren't enough defenders there to box them all out.

In the previous matchup this year, the Hoos did not attack the offensive glass, and grabbed just 4 boards (17%). In previous years, the Hoos hit the offensive glass hard against the Orange. In 2015, the Hoos grabbed 53%(!) of their misses and in 2014 it was 40%. The lineup may have had something to do with that, as Jack Salt started that game, and Mike Tobey played just 14 minutes. As we know, Tobey has been going for HAM over the past few weeks and Salt has played just 3 minutes.

The Orange are led by 3 man backcourt made up of 2 seniors and a freshman. The seniors are Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. Gbinije, who transferred from Duke after one year, has finally come into his own after 3 subpar seasons. Though nominally the PG, he leads the team in scoring at 17.8 while also chipping in 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He shoots over 40% from 3 and takes nearly half his shots from 3. He's 6'7" with long arms, which makes him a big piece of the Syracuse zone. He averages 2 steals per game, often from breaking into passing lanes. He also averages nearly 3 turnovers per game. Cooney has seemingly been playing for Syracuse for a decade, and has basically been the same player for his entire career. He's a good shooter, not a great one, but has a quick release and can get hot. He also excels at jumping passing lanes, as anybody who watched the end of Syracuse's Sweet 16 game against Gonzaga can attest to. Cooney takes 60% of his shots from 3 point land. Both Gbinije and Cooney will likely play the entire contest, as they both rank among the nations leaders in minutes played.

The freshman guard is 6'6" Malachi Richardson. He also shoots about 35% from 3 and takes more than 50% of his shots from downtown. He's had an up and down freshman year, shooting just 36% from the field overall, but averaging 13 points and 4 rebounds per game. He is also turnover prone.

The frontcourt for the Orange is similarly 2 upperclassmen and a freshman. Senior DaJaun Coleman has started every game this season, but has been losing minutes to freshman Tyler Lydon all season long. In the tourney, Coleman has averaged just 16 minutes per game, with Lydon playing over 30. Coleman is a better rebounder, but has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Lydon is also a better offensive player, shoots 40% from 3, and is more athletic and a better shot blocker. Along with that duo is junior Tyler Roberson. Roberson leads the team with over 8 rebounds per game, but scores just 9 points per game. He doesn't shoot much, mostly in transition or off offensive rebounds. He's one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation. He's long, at 6'8" and is a decent shot blocker. While all 3 of the Orange frontcourt players are tall and long, none of them can compete inside with Mike Tobey. We could very easily see another big game from him. In 2015, he had 10 and 8 (4 O-boards) vs the Orange in 16 minutes and in 2014 he had 11 and 8 (5 O-boards) in 23 minutes.

The only other player the Hoos will see if freshman Frank Howard. Howard will come in for any of the 3 backcourt players if they need a breather, or they get into foul trouble. He's a slasher who still needs to get stronger. He played 17 minutes against Gonzaga and contributed 5 points, 3 assists and 2 steals.

The key for the Hoos will be to keep Syracuse's shooters from getting too comfortable on the outside, and keeping Roberson off the offensive glass. Offensively, the Hoos must continue to pound the ball inside. That isn't always easy against the zone, but the Hoos have found a way. Often, they'll use either Anthony Gill or Malcolm Brogdon in the high post. They'll set up at the foul line, behind the front of the zone and in front of the back. This gives the team a lot of options. Brogdon, in particular, can shoot from here, drive into the lane, or kick out to a shooter.

Syracuse is another team that lacks depth. Having played a tough, physical game against Gonzaga on Friday night, the Orange may tire by the end of tomorrow's contest. The Hoos are much deeper, and had a much less stressful Sweet 16 matchup. There are a lot of factors in the Hoos favor in this one, but obviously Syracuse is playing their best basketball of the season right now and this will be a tough game. The Hoos are favored by around 9 points and need to play smart basketball. The Hoos are the better team right now and need to ensure that they do not beat themselves.