Matchup Preview: Syracuse vs. Wake Forest

Preview of Tuesday's ACC battle between the Orange and the Demon Deacons.

The Matchup: Syracuse (12-4, 3-0) at Wake Forest (9-8, 1-3)
Date: 1/13/14
Time: 8:00pm Eastern
Location: Carrier Dome (Syracuse, NY)
Television: ESPN3 (national)/NBC (local)

Key Players

PF Tyler Roberson – Syracuse: With the loss of forward Chris McCullough for the season with a torn ACL, Roberson becomes a much more important contributor. Not only does he have to make up for McCullough’s production, but Roberson cannot get into foul trouble. Syracuse is extremely thin at power forward and center with the loss of McCullough. It is critical for the Orange that Roberson not only stays on the floor, but is able to rebound well, score when given opportunities, and play solid defense.

C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: Syracuse’s best player becomes even more important with McCullough out. If it was critical before for Syracuse’s Rak to stay out of foul trouble, it is even more so at this juncture. He provides low-post scoring, senior leadership and a big time defensive presence.

PF Devin Thomas – Wake Forest: Thomas is one of the best interior players in the ACC. He leads the conference in rebounding, is efficient around the rim, and is a strong defender. Thomas will be a huge test for the thin Syracuse front line. It will be interesting to see how he attacks the zone. Thomas averages 13 points and 10 rebounds per game.

PF Codi Miller-McIntyre – Wake Forest: Miller-McIntyre is a solid guard who plays physical basketball. He does most of his damage inside the three-point arc, but can hit the outside shot on occasion. He is a strong rebounder from the guard position and a skilled passer. In addition, he is the second leading score for the Demon Deacons this season.

Wake Forest Offense vs. Syracuse Defense

Wake is not a great outside shooting team, but they are solid. As a team, they are hitting 33% of their shots from beyond the arc. When attacking the zone, the Demon Deacons will look to penetrate and kick to their better shooters.

Miller-McIntyre is a prime candidate to try to drive into the middle of the zone, forcing Syracuse to rotate out of position. His ability to both score and find open teammates makes him tough for a zone to handle. On the season, he is only making 26% of his three-point attempts, but can hit them on occasion.

Wake’s best outside shooter is Mitchell Wilbekin. Wilbekin is a true freshman and younger brother of former Florida Gator Scottie Wilbekin. He is an elite outside shooter at 45% on the season. He has hit at least two three-pointers in nine games this season. He will test the perimeter of the zone.

The other outside threats are forward Cornelius Hudson and center Darius Leonard. Hudson is another freshman with a feathery outside touch. Leonard is a European style big who plays more from the outside is more finesse than physical. Despite his 6-foot-9 frame, he is not a strong rebounder.

On the inside, Devin Thomas does most of their damage. A lot of the offense runs through their talented power forward. He is a physical presence on the inside and can score in a variety of ways. He is also a force on the boards.

Wake will run things through Thomas and Miller-McIntyre in this one. Don’t be surprised if you see Thomas at the high post or Miller-McIntyre driving off the dribble. Leonard may see some time at the high post as well.

Ball movement will be critical, which has been a strength of the Demon Deacons this season. They can be turnover prone with 15 per game.

Syracuse Offense vs. Wake Forest Defense

Wake is a solid defensive team, but not a great one. Syracuse should have some success with the pick and roll. Freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph has been solid over the last few games at penetrating, staying patient and finding open teammates. In Syracuse’s last game against Florida State, he had seven assists to just one turnover.

His ability to be efficient with the basketball will be critical to their success in this one. Don’t be surprised if you see either Wilbekin or Miller-McIntyre matched up with Joseph throughout much of the game.

Trevor Cooney has been hot over the last several games. Look for Wake to shadow him and prevent open looks. That’s where Syracuse using screens around the perimeter could be important to free Cooney.

The interesting matchup is who guards Rakeem Christmas. If Wake uses Darius Leonard, Christmas will have a significant athleticism and strength advantage. If they go with Devin Thomas, it would force him to use a lot of energy on the defensive end. Either way, Christmas will once again be a focal point of the Orange attack.

Michael Gbinije’s ability to drive as well as shoot will be important as well. Wake doesn’t really have anyone that can matchup with his skill set, though Cornelius Hudson may be the best bet. In that battle, Gbinije will have a size advantage to shoot over the top of Hudson.

Final Thoughts

Even without McCullough, Syracuse is the better team here. They have more offensive versatility, better defenders and more athleticism. Devin Thomas will be the key. If he controls things for the Demon Deacons inside, they have a real chance to pull an upset on the road. But if Christmas can match his production and keep him from dominating the glass, Syracuse should be able to pull this one out. Prediction: Syracuse 69 Wake Forest 65.

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