North Carolina (14-2, 3-0 ACC) vs. Syracuse (10-6, 0-3 ACC)
Syracuse, N.Y. – Carrier Dome
Saturday, 8 p.m.
ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas, Allison Williams)
''Every game is so important. People who aren't involved say it's a few games. They don't understand if you even miss five minutes of a game it crushes you as a player or a coach. It's important to fans, but it's our life's blood.'' – Boeheim
''I think we'll get a fired-up crowd. I think we'll get a fired-up team,'' - UNC head coach Roy Williams
''They're the best team in the country, I think, clearly. They have a lot of depth, a lot inside, they shoot the ball, they have seniors. It's just a tremendously talented, veteran team.'' - Boeheim on UNC
Season to Date: Syracuse enters Saturday’s contest with a 10-6 (0-3 ACC) record. The Orange have lost six of their last 10 games after a 6-0 start that included upsets of No. 23 Connecticut and No. 21 Texas A&M. Assistant Mike Hopkins served as the interim head coach during Boeheim's absence. Syracuse’s ACC losses have against No. 24 Pittsburgh (72-61), No. 12 Miami (64-51) and Clemson (74-73).
Boeheim Back: Head coach Jim Boeheim will rejoin the Syracuse bench after serving a nine-game suspension handed down by the NCAA. The Orange are 6-1 under Boeheim this season, with the lone loss coming in his final game before the suspension to Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Boheim is 2-1 against Roy Williams during his tenure at UNC.
Gbinije’s Scorching Start: Senior guard Michael Gbinije has been Syracuse’s go-to offensive option this year, averaging 18 points per game on 45 percent shooting. He has reached the double-figures mark in all 16 games this season, helping him to rank third in the conference in scoring. Gbinije is capable of exposing North Carolina’s greatest defensive flaw this year: 3-point defense. He has hit 40 percent of his ACC-high 116 attempts from outside this season.
Depth Concerns: Five of Syracuse’s key players average more than 30 minutes per game, highlighting the limited bench options for Boeheim. Only one other player – starting center DaJaun Coleman - is averaging more than nine minutes per game (15.3).
Cooney Island: In last year’s contest between North Carolina and Syracuse, guard Trevor Cooney scored 28 points in a 93-83 loss. The senior finished the game 10-of-26 from the field, setting career highs in field goal attempts and 3-point attempts (13). Cooney ranks fourth in school history in made 3-pointers (219), including 40 made treys this season at a 35.7 percent clip.
Steal-a-Cuse: Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense disrupts offenses and is capable of forcing guards into making poor decisions with the basketball. Because of this, three of Syracuse’s five starters are in the top 10 in the conference in steals. Gbinije leads the ACC with 2.4 per game, followed by Cooney with 1.9 per game. Freshman forward Tyler Lydon ranks eighth in the conference with 1.5 steals per game. For comparison’s sake, UNC’s leader in steals, Joel Berry, ranks two spots behind Lydon with 1.38 per game. North Carolina ranks in the bottom half of the ACC in turnovers, so limiting the impact these three have will be critical for the Tar Heels on Saturday.
Styles Clash: While North Carolina excels in games where it pushes the tempo (see: Monday at Florida State), the Orange prefer slowing down the pace and limiting each team’s total possessions. Syracuse ranks 320th in the nation in adjusted tempo according to KenPom.com, averaging just 66.2 possessions per game. By contrast, the Tar Heels are ranked 23rd in the country in adjusted tempo with an average of 74.2 total possessions per game. Syracuse will look to force the Tar Heels to execute in half court against its zone defense. They did that successfully in the most recent Carrier Dome encounter between these programs, when UNC fell to Syracuse in an abysmal offensive performance, 57-45, in 2014.
Big-Time Atmosphere: Syracuse officials are expecting more than 26,000 fans to pack the Carrier Dome for Saturday’s primetime matchup. Factor in the return of Boeheim to the bench, students arriving back from winter break, the Orange looking to avoid a 4-game losing streak to start conference play and new football coach Dino Babers addressing the audience at halftime, and UNC will likely face its most hostile environment of the season.
Last Meeting: The Tar Heels defeated the Orange, 93-83, at the Smith Center on Jan. 26, 2015. Marcus Paige led UNC with 22 points and eight assists, while three other Tar Heels – Nate Britt, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson – scored 17 points. UNC shot 55.4 percent and outrebounded Syracuse, 42-27. The Orange led by one point with 8:31 to play before the Tar Heels used a 12-3 spurt in the final four minutes to secure the victory.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 5-4.
32 Dajaun Coleman (6-9, 268, Sr.) – 4.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg
10 Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195, Gr.) - 13.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg
0 Michael Gbinije (6-7, 200, Gr.) - 18.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg
21 Tyler Roberson (6-8, 226, Jr.) - 9.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg
23 Malachi Richardson (6-6, 205, Fr.) - 13.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg
20 Tyler Lydon (6-8, 210, Fr.) – 9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg
14 Kaleb Joseph (6-3, 180, So.) – 1.1 ppg, 0.6 rpg