Take Syracuse, for example. They come into the RBC Center as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, but during their ascent they've yet to leave the state of New York. They've racked up eight wins at home and two more in Madison Square Garden. This isn't to say that Syracuse is a bad team, or undeserving of its No. 1 ranking. As we'll see below, the Orange are extremely talented and a legitimate national title contender.
But for all that's being made about the challenge it will be for NC State to play Syracuse, perhaps it should be acknowledged that this game will be a new challenge for the Orange as well. They'll be leaving friendly turf for the first time, coming to a sold-out arena that is eager to be a part of Mark Gottfried's first signature win with the Wolfpack.
Let's take a look at the numbers.
Pack Offense against Syracuse Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||Syracuse Defense|
|Points per Possession||1.09 (36)||0.83 (13)|
|2-point FG%||51.2 (73)||41.5 (43)|
|3-point FG%||33.6 (178)||29.9 (66)|
|Turnover %||19.6 (101)||29.5 (2)|
|Off. Rebound %||39.5 (21)||35.7 (264)|
|FT Rate (FTA/FGA)||40.4 (112)||27.7 (32)|
|Block %||4.9 (4)||21.2 (4)|
Scary is really the only word to accurately describe Syracuse's defense. They create turnovers as well as any team in the country – one out of every three possessions for their opponents end with a turnover. They also block shots at an incredible rate, swatting back one out of every five field goal attempts. It's going to be imperative that the team, and Lorenzo Brown in particular, avoid lazy passes and careless turnovers. The whole team also needs to make sure it goes straight at defenders inside – you are not shooting over this team.
As you would expect from a team that executes the zone as well as the Orange, they defend the interior better than they do behind the 3-point line. Unfortunately for the Pack they have just one player who can consistently knock down open shots – so the Pack will have to either get hot from outside or move the ball effectively to get open looks inside the arc.
The greatest weakness for Syracuse is what you might expect – defensive rebounding. As a zone team they are susceptible to offensive rebounds, and the Pack has been a very good offensive rebounding team so far this year. They need to attack the glass consistently and relentlessly on Saturday, because second-chance points are there for the taking.
Pack Defense against Syracuse Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||Syracuse Offense|
|Points per Possession||1.02 (223)||1.15 (8)|
|2-point FG%||43.4 (70)||53.3 (41)|
|3-point FG%||39.8 (312)||34.5 (151)|
|Turnover %||19.6 (246)||17.0 (26)|
|Off. Rebound %||31.9 (142)||41.7 (8)|
|FT Rate (FTA/FGA)||40.4 (241)||29.5 (294)|
The Pack's biggest defensive weakness – perimeter shooting – is helped somewhat by Syracuse in that they aren't a great shooting team and they aren't a team that looks to take a ton of long-range shots. They are, however, a very good interior scoring team so it's possible that the Pack plays more of the zone look that Gottfried has been throwing at opponents the last several games.
It's somewhat surprising, given their interior scoring, that the Orange do not get to the line very often. The Pack has been pretty foul-prone early in the season, a trend they need to reverse both to keep guys on the floor and to avoid giving Syracuse easy points.
The Pack can probably go ahead and forget about winning this game by generating a lot of turnovers – it's simply not going to happen. Gottfried has never coached a defensive style that values creating turnovers and Syracuse is pretty good at holding on to the ball, so it seems highly unlikely that both those trends would reverse themselves on Saturday.
Where the Pack has to help itself on Saturday is on the defensive glass. Syracuse is very good at crashing the boards, while the Pack has shown flashes of good rebounding and flashes of regressing to old habits. Gottfried's team can't have those regressions on Saturday, it needs a solid rebounding effort from start to finish for the Pack to have a chance at the big upset.
The road to victory
Syracuse might be the No. 1 team in the country, but they are not invincible. The Pack is capable of beating this team if it can take care of the ball on offense and crash the boards. If Lorenzo Brown can keep his turnovers in check and get into the lane, the Pack will get open looks at the basket. If they take advantage of the zone and crash the offensive glass, that will be one of their few chances for easy baskets.
Defensively it's about keeping them off the glass more than anything else. The Pack has faced several teams that shoot the ball better than Syracuse, but none that rebound their own misses as well as the Orange. It's probably not realistic to expect the Pack to create many turnovers, so the defensive glass is going to have to be the way it keeps Syracuse's offense in check.