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. Against St. John’s, he did just that and played all 40 minutes. He will have a size and physicality advantage in this game, and needs to be a force for Syracuse.
PG Kaleb Joseph – Syracuse: Tech will utilize a full-court, aggressive man-to-man press defense that well test Syracuse’s young point guard. Joseph caught the ire of head coach Jim Boeheim by shooting too many three-pointers in the last game. Joseph will have to be smart and patient in this one, taking care of the basketball and setting Syracuse up in their half court offense. His play is critical to the offensive success of the Orange and their ability to beat the press.
SF Eric McCree – Louisiana Tech: McCree is a really good wing at 6-foot-8. He is a strong basketball player who can score from anywhere on the floor. Despite only shooting 30% from beyond the arc, he can hit from there with a smooth shooting stroke. McCree is also good attacking the basket, rebounds well and is not afraid to mix it up inside. He could see some time at the free-throw line in the middle of Syracuse’s zone.
SG Raheem Appleby - Louisiana Tech: Tech’s best outside shooter and leading scorer, Appleby will test the perimeter of the zone. His shot selection is inconsistent, but he can flat out score. Appleby is currently making over 36% of his three-point attempts.
Louisiana Tech Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
Louisiana Tech is a solid outside shooting team at 36% on the season, but not spectacular. Syracuse will have to be disciplined in their zone and not give up open looks, but this is not a Michigan situation where the middle should be more open than usual.
The key for the Bulldogs is point guard Kenneth Smith. He is averaging seven assists per game and is a skilled distributor. He can also hit the outside shot at nearly 46% on the season from beyond the arc. That said, he is not a prolific scorer, at less than six points per game.
But Smith’s ability to penetrate, draw defenders and kick to open shooters will be critical. Smith can also draw the back line of the zone up and find backdoor cutters for open looks inside. Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney will have to be strong in their perimeter defense in order to prevent his driving opportunities.
In addition to the aforementioned McCree and Appleby, keep an eye on guard Alex Hamilton. While not as strong as an outside shooter, he is another natural scorer who can put up points in bunches. He is also a very good defender, averaging nearly two steals per game.
Leading rebounder Michale Kyser does most of his damage around the basket, shooting 58% from the floor on the season. He will have a size disadvantage down low.
Syracuse Offense vs. Louisiana Tech Defense
Louisiana Tech will use a full court press as their primary defense. This will test the Syracuse ball handlers, and force them to be strong with the basketball. That means Kaleb Joseph and Trevor Cooney will be forced to play smart under pressure.
Once Syracuse breaks the press and gets into the half court, they will be facing a traditional man-to-man style. Look for Syracuse to run a lot of pick and roll action with Joseph and either Rakeem Christmas or Chris McCullough.
Both Christmas and McCullough should have advantages inside. The Orange should go to both early and often. That may mean the Bulldogs will double the post and force Syracuse to beat them from the outside. Cooney, Gbinije and the like will have to be solid from the outside in that case.
Joseph can also be a factor, taking his man off the dribble and looking to create once he gets in the lane. He can finish in that situation, but Boeheim wants him to be a distributor. He is still working on that part of his game, but this is a prime opportunity to show some growth.
The intriguing part for Syracuse is Tyler Roberson. If he is able to go, he provides a big conundrum for Tech. They only play two forwards, who will likely guard Christmas and McCullough. That means Roberson could have a 6-foot-4 guard as his primary defender for much of the game. That should be a big mismatch in Syracuse’s favor.
This will be an interesting matchup because Louisiana Tech has some solid players that could really give the Orange some problem. They have zone killer type players, and their full court press defense could really test the Syracuse backcourt. Still, the Orange has a talent advantage and big edge inside. That should be enough, but this one could be closer than a lot of people think.