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UNC Opponent Preview: Syracuse

North Carolina and Syracuse meet for the third time this season in the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston. The game tips on Saturday at approximately 8:49 pm ET and will be televised by TBS.

North Carolina (32-6) vs. Syracuse (23-13)
Houston, Tex. – NRG Stadium
Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET
TBS (Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson)

Quotables

“I think it gives you some confidence going into this game. I mean, we can play with these guys. We had them at home. They went on a run at the end of the game. We went into Carolina late in the year and played well. Once again we were there at the end. We just couldn't get the stops we needed or score enough to really get back into the game. I think it just gives us the confidence to go into this game, that we can play with these guys. If we play the way we've been playing defensively, I think we'll be fine.” – Syracuse senior guard Trevor Cooney on playing UNC

“I think once he goes and gets to the basket, gets to the foul line, I think it loosens him up a little bit. He starts to feel better about his three. But he's at his best when he really does both things. That's what we like to see him do.” – Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim on freshman wing Malachi Richardson

“Our press is very, very not good. That's what it is. It's very not good.” – Boeheim

PREGAME NOTES

How the Orange Got Here: Syracuse became the first 10-seed to ever make the Final Four after shocking the Midwest Region’s top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, 68-62, in the Elite Eight. The Orange trailed by 15 points with 9:33 remaining in the second half, but came back using a 20-4 run over the next four minutes. Syracuse used a full court press to force Virginia to speed up its tempo and out of its comfort zone. The win propelled a team that many experts said shouldn’t have made the 68-team field into the final weekend of the season, setting up one last showdown with the Tar Heels.

Richardson Shining in Postseason: Freshman wing Malachi Richardson has put on a show in NCAA Tournament play, averaging 14.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. The first-year standout became an overnight household name during the Orange’s frenetic comeback against the Cavs, scoring 21 of his career-high 23 points in the second half to secure a trip to Houston. Richardson sank Syracuse’s final three field goals of the game to surge ahead of the Cavaliers, setting the Orange up to seal the game at the free throw line.

Just Keep Shooting: Syracuse is one of the highest-volume 3-point shooting teams in the ACC, ranking 40th nationally in 3-point attempt percentage (42.2), according to kenpom.com. The Orange trailed only Duke this season in 3-point attempts, putting up 776 outside shots per game. Players to watch from deep are senior guard Trevor Cooney, who shoots 35 percent from long range, senior forward Michael Gbinije, who shoots 40 percent and Richardson, who shoots 35 percent. Cuse is shooting 36 percent from 3-point range in March Madness, although that stat will be tested in the traditionally tough-on-shooters NRG Stadium.

Effective Defense: Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone defense is designed to deny the ball inside and force guards to take difficult 3-point shots (see: UNC shooting just 6-25 from 3 on Senior Night), but its backcourt is capable of forcing turnovers as well. Gbinije averages an ACC-high two steals per game, and Cooney joins him in the top-five with 1.6 takeaways per contest. This worked to the Orange’s advantage in their Elite Eight upset, forcing the normally efficient Cavaliers into 13 turnovers.

Tobacco Road Redemption: One story to look for will be senior guard Michael Gbinije’s quest for redemption this weekend. Gbinije left the Duke program after the 2011-12 season, opting to transfer to Syracuse. He found more playing time with the Orange, but missed out on what would have been a national championship senior season with the Blue Devils. Fast forward one year, and the only team standing between Gbinije and a chance to win a title is his former rival from eight miles down the road.

Last Meeting: The Tar Heels held off the Orange on Senior Night with a 75-70 victory on Feb. 29. Brice Johnson led UNC with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Joel Berry (13), Kennedy Meeks (10), Justin Jackson (10) and Isaiah Hicks (10) also scored in double figures. UNC shot 41.2 percent from the floor and held Syracuse to 41.1 percent shooting. Gbinije led the Orange with 17 points.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 7-4.

Projected Starters:
32 Dajaun Coleman (6-9, 268, Sr.) – 4.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg
10 Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195, Gr.) - 12.7 ppg, 2.4 apg
0 Michael Gbinije (6-7, 200, Gr.) - 17.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg
21 Tyler Roberson (6-8, 226, Jr.) – 9.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg
23 Malachi Richardson (6-6, 205, Fr.) - 13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Top Reserves:
20 Tyler Lydon (6-8, 210, Fr.) – 10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg
1 Franklin Howard (6-4, 190, Fr.) – 1.7 ppg, 1.8 apg

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