Players To Watch
C Rakeem Christmas - Syracuse: Syracuse’s top offensive option, Christmas has been very good early in the season. Averaging nearly 19 points and 13 rebounds per game, the Syracuse offense runs through their starting center. He sees the ball in the post frequently in the half court, is comfortable attacking the basket or hitting a short jumper. His early success has been against smaller opponents, so his matchup with David Kravish will be a test.
PF Chris McCullough - Syracuse: The true freshman forward is the most talented player on Syracuse’s roster. He has played much more physically than anticipated initially. Crashing the boards and scoring around the basket, he gives Syracuse a strong one-two punch up front.
G Tyrone Wallace – Cal: The leading scorer for the Bears, Wallace is a big time offensive threat. He is averaging 20 points per game, is shooting 60% from the floor and has made two of his three attempts from beyond the arc. Wallace is a versatile scorer who can slash, hit the jumper and finish. He is also a strong rebounder despite being only 6-foot-5, averaging nearly 10 boards per game. In addition, Wallace leads Cal in assists and steals.
F/C David Kravish – Cal: Kravish’s ability to defend Christmas will be critical for Cal. He is a big body who does not play as physical as he should at times. Still, he will be a test as he moves well and has high basketball IQ. Offensively, he will look to get Christmas in foul trouble with some post moves, pump fakes and ability to handle. He is a strong rim protector, averaging three blocks per game.
A key to this game will be how Cal attacks the Syracuse zone. The good news for the Golden Bears is that they have seen Syracuse more than most non-conference foes, having faced the Orange in each of the last two seasons.
One key way to defeat the zone is hitting the outside shot. Cal has options to do just that, led by guard Jordan Mathews. He has made six of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc on the season. Syracuse will have to keep an eye on him throughout this game. Look for Trevor Cooney and Kaleb Joseph to shadow him at the top of the zone.
Leading scorer Tyrone Wallace can also hit the outside shot, making 43 threes last season and shooting a high percentage this year. Wing Jabari Bird can also hit the outside shot, though that is not the best part of his game.
Don’t be surprised if Cal overloads one side of the zone to try to get open looks for their shooters, They had success with this in each of the last two matchups.
Another way to beat the zone is interior passing. David Kravish, the man in the middle for Cal, is a solid passing big man. He could have success facilitating out of the low post with dishing to backdoor cutters and slashers down the lane.
The primary vulnerable spot in the zone is at the free throw line. Matthews, Wallace and Bird can all play there, hitting the short or distributing to others.
The key for Syracuse is to rotate the backline well to close the gaps and utilize the length of the Orange forwards. Rakeem Christmas’ ability to protect the rim will be critical to prevent easy buckets. Chris McCullough has to be sound in his rotations to not leave open shooters in the corner.
If Cal comes out hot from the outside, the zone will adjust. Head coach Jim Boeheim will have the defense push out, forcing longer shots from the Bears’ shooters. That will leave them vulnerable inside, which makes Christmas even more important. He has to stay out of foul trouble for Syracuse in this one.
Cal has everything to be successful in this one. Syracuse has more talent at certain positions, but the Bears have the offensive threats to really test the youth within the Orange zone. The Christmas/Kravish matchup may be the key.
If Rakeem dominates that matchup, it bodes well for Syracuse’s chances. If Kravish holds his own, it may be tough for the Orange to pull this one out.
Outside shooting and rebounding will be critical. Cal has multiple guys who can hit the outside shots and is shooting 47% as a team, while Syracuse is still trying to round into form from distance. Trevor Cooney may have to hit a couple of threes in this one.
The Syracuse zone has to force turnovers to try to get easy buckets, Conversely, taking care of the basketball will be critical for the Orange.
Don’t be surprised if Cal attacks Christmas early to try to get him in foul trouble as the Orange lack depth at the center position.