The Matchup: Syracuse (4-1) vs. Holy Cross (3-0)
Time: 7:00pm Eastern
Location: Carrier Dome (Syracuse, NY)
C Rakeem Christmas - Syracuse: When Christmas has been on the floor, he has been very, very good this season. The problem is, he has been in foul trouble in every game. The key for Christmas, and the Orange, is to play smart basketball in order to limit his fouls. This game is a perfect opportunity to show he has improved in that aspect of his game.
F Chris McCullough - Syracuse: Syracuse’s size advantage in this one will be obvious right from the opening tip. It is another prime opportunity for McCullough to fill up the stat sheet and continue the “one-and-done” chatter. He should have a lot of success in the post and on the boards in this one.
G/F Eric Green – Holy Cross: Holy Cross’ best player, he is averaging over 14 points per game while shooting nearly 60% from the floor. He is not an outside shooter as he has not attempted a single three-pointer all seasons. Green is more of a slasher who attacks the rim and tries to get easy buckets. He is great off the bounce as well. Green is also a lockdown defender, picking up three steals per game.
G Justin Burrell – Holy Cross: Burrell is one of the better shooters on the team and is another pure scorer. The difference with Burrell is his ability as a skilled passer. He leads the team with over five assists per game. The drive and kick method works for him as well as finding baseline cutters. Defensively, he is very active and forces nearly three steals per game as well.
Loyola Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
This is where Syracuse should have a significant advantage. Holy Cross is shooting only 34% from three-point range on the season. They are more driving, slashing and attacking the basket types. The problem for them is that is the strength of the Orange defense.
The Crusaders also lack significant size inside, their tallest player being just 6-foot-7, and only have two such players on the roster. It will be difficult for them to go inside, play at the high post or crash the offensive boards. Malcolm Miller and Malachi Alexander are the top inside players, but only combine for about nine boards per outing.
The top outside shooting threats are Justin Burrell, Cullen Hamilton and Anthony Thomas. Holy Cross may try to utilize a three-guard approach to spread the zone out and have some outside threats on the floor.
Eric Green is the top scoring threat and will likely try to get into the lane. This is where he will test the ability of Rakeem Christmas to stay out of foul trouble. Green could also pull up for a mid-range jumper in the open spots in the zone.
Syracuse Offense vs. Loyola Defense
Holy Cross is a very good defensive team. They may not have the size to matchup with Syracuse, but they are aggressive, play full-court man-to-man press defense and force a lot of turnovers. In fact, they steal the ball 14 times per game.
The Crusaders will really test Syracuse’s ability to bring the ball up the floor. The ball handling and decision making for Syracuse will have to be strong. This is where Kaleb Joseph has to continue to grow, and Michael Gbinije plays well in relief.
Once the Orange break the press, they have a big advantage inside. Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough will once again face smaller, weaker opponents. Syracuse will go inside early and often in order to exploit this matchup. It should be a big day for both.
The inside play should help open things up on the outside. While Holy Cross will be aggressive defensively, they will likely try to double the Orange bigs inside. This should give Trevor Cooney, B.J. Johnson and Michael Gbinije good looks at outside shots.
Any opponent facing Syracuse will try to make them win from the outside, so it is imperative that those three show signs of being consistent threats out there.
Syracuse has a significant size advantage inside which should be enough to pull this one out. Holy Cross did beat Harvard, who was ranked at the time, earlier this season. The Crusaders are no slouch and will give the Orange a good test against the press and a strong defensive unit. Syracuse should still come out on top, but it won’t be easy.