SG Trevor Cooney – Syracuse: When Cooney’s shot is falling chances are Syracuse is clicking on all cylinders offensively. Lately that’s been the case with the Orange, who has won four straight games including its ACC opener on the road at Virginia Tech, Jan. 3. While Cooney appears confident from beyond the arc, it’s been his ability to facilitate, get to the bucket and create turnovers along the perimeter that has really elevated his game in the last month.
C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: I said before the year that Christmas was going to be one of the top centers in the ACC this season. If his first 14 games of the season are any indication then that thought doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it once did. Christmas is by far Syracuse’s top offensive option. Averaging 17.3 points-per-game to go along with 8.9 rebounds-per-game, Christmas is a walking double-double, which has been huge for a depleted Orange front line now that junior DaJuan Coleman has officially been redshirted. With Christmas and freshman forward Chris McCullough listed as the tallest players on either team, expect the Orange to play inside-out in its second straight ACC road game.
SF Marcus Georges-Hunt – Georgia Tech: Georges-Hunt is a very versatile player for the Yellow Jackets. Able to create mismatches at both ends of the floor, Georges-Hunt is a physical player who often finds himself in the right spot on the floor. Although the 6’5” forward isn’t shooting well from beyond the arc this season, he still remains a threat for the Jackets should he get open. Averaging 13.5 points-per-game and 5.4 rebounds-per-game, Georges-Hunt is able to score in a variety of ways while creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. In 64 career ACC games, Georges-Hunt has reached double-figures in 39 of those games.
PF Charles Mitchell – Georgia Tech: A transfer from the University of Maryland, Mitchell was granted immediate eligibility waiver for the 2014-15 season. At 6’8”, the junior forward is a tenacious rebounder who finished seventh in the ACC last season in rebounding average. Mitchell is at his best on the offensive glass where he average 4.33 offensive rebounds per game last season. Although he’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of height against McCullough and Christmas, the 270-pound forward will be able to bang down low which could put the Orange in foul trouble early.
Georgia Tech Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
One of the easiest ways to beat the Syracuse 2-3 zone is to catch fire from beyond the arc, which will force Orange perimeter defenders to close out hard, which will leave them vulnerable to slashing wings. Against the Yellow Jackets the Orange won’t really have to worry about getting beaten from beyond the arc.
Coming into tonight’s ACC matchup, Georgia Tech is shooting a paltry 23.9 percent from beyond the arc. Leading the way for GT is 6’9” forward Quinton Stephens who is shooting just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in over 24 minutes-per-game.
Unable to rely on 3-point shooting out of the gate, expect the Yellow Jackets to feed Mitchell down low where he can muscle up against Christmas and McCullough. The Orange should be able to bring help defenders down hard into the paint without worrying too much about open shooters beyond the arc.
Georgia Tech doesn’t just struggle from beyond the arc; the Yellow Jackets connect on just 42.5 percent of its shots from the floor, which is remarkable considering their record. In terms of raw numbers Georgia Tech matches up evenly with the Orange, but a size and skills advantage should put the Orange over the top.
Syracuse Offense vs. Georgia Tech Defense
Much like the last 14 games, expect a heavy dose of Christmas and Cooney with a dash of Gbinije and Roberson sprinkled in for Syracuse.
It’s no secret that Christmas is the key cog in the engine that is Syracuse’s offensive. The senior center has taken a huge step forward in his development at both ends of the floor, but his growth on the offensive end has given the Orange a dimension in the half-court game that it’s lacked in recent memory.
Able to catch the ball with his back to the basket on either block and get good looks, Christmas opens up lanes for cutting wings like Cooney, Gbinije and even a guy like McCullough who – although struggling in the past few weeks – is an athletic threat opposite Christmas in the paint.
As the offense seemingly runs through Christmas, Georgia Tech help defenders will have to crash down into the paint to help Mitchell and the rest of the Yellow Jackets front line. When that happens, Christmas – who’s an impressive passer out of the double-team – should be able to find open shooters dotted around the perimeter.
This will be another big growth game for freshman point guard, Kaleb Joseph. Coming off of a disappointing performance against Virginia Tech in which he played just 17 minutes and finished with 2 points, 3 assists and one turnover, Joseph will be out to prove he can play in the vaunted ACC.
Syracuse narrowly escaped an upset-minded Virginia Tech in their ACC opener despite holding a 19-point halftime lead. A young team that is still trying to find its way, expect Syracuse to come out much more focused and play a full 40 minutes of basketball. Syracuse wins this one, 69-64.