SF Michael Gbinije – Syracuse: Has anyone been playing better than Gbinije over the last three games? You would be hard pressed to find someone. Over that span, Gbinije is averaging 24 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals per game while shooting 67.5% from the floor and 58.8% from three-point range. If he continues to play at that clip, it makes Syracuse a very dangerous offensive team.
C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: Christmas has been struggling over the past few games and looks to rebound against a front line with size and length. He can’t keep missing solid looks, one would assume. The Orange may need him to return to form if they want to pull off the upset.
PF Montrezl Harrell – Louisville: One of the better fours in the league, Harrell does a bit of everything for the Cardinals. He can score from inside and out, though he is much better on the low-block or attacking the basket. He is also an elite rebounder and solid shot blocker. He plays physical basketball and will test the Orange zone.
SG Terry Rozier – Louisville: Rozier is Louisville’s best outside shooter statistically. He also leads the Cardinals in scoring and is second in rebounds, assists and steals. His outside shooting will be critical to Louisville’s success, as will his ability to penetrate. Rozier is a versatile guard who can do a bit of everything.
Louisville Offense vs. Syracuse Defense
Over the years, few have had as much success against the Syracuse zone as Rick Pitino’s teams. That is for various reasons, most notably learning under Orange head coach Jim Boeheim. That makes him uncommonly familiar with Syracuse’s defense.
Combine that with extremely talented players, most of whom are sharp shooters from the outside, and Pitino has had a perfect recipe for success.
This year, his team is not a great three-point shooting team. Louisville shoots just 30.5% from beyond the arc. Rozier and wing Wayne Blackshear are the best pure shooters, but none are hitting more than 35% of their attempts this season.
The key for Louisville will be penetration, specifically from freshman point guard Quentin Snider and Rozier. Those two are both good with the ball in their hands, while Blackshear is better as a spot-up shooter. Look for both guards to try getting into the lane to draw Rakeem Christmas up, leaving openings for Montrezl Harrell and Chinanu Onuaku (brother of former Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku).
Snider is filling in for normal starting point guard Chris Jones, who is suspended for the game. Snider is quick with the ball in his hands and creative in the lane. Look for him to test the top of the Orange zone.
For Syracuse, Trevor Cooney and Kaleb Joseph have to be on their game in order to prevent that penetration. Joseph has been very inconsistent in that role, and struggled in the second half against Duke.
When guards penetrate, it draws Christmas up and the wings in, leaving the baseline open as well as the corner three. Whether or not Louisville is hitting from the outside is crucial to this matchup.
If they are, it puts a lot of pressure on the rotations of the zone. If they aren’t, it allows Syracuse to pack it in, making things difficult for Harrel and company.
Syracuse Offense vs. Louisville Defense
Despite having a shallow bench that does not produce, Louisville still utilizes a full court pressure defense. Their guards will test the ball handling of the opposition with an aggressive style. This is the staple of all Rick Pitino teams and has worked for decades.
Syracuse will counter with Kaleb Joseph, who has struggled with careless turnovers throughout his freshman campaign, Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. That trio will be paramount in helping the Orange beat the press.
Against pressure from other opponents, Syracuse has been solid for the most part. But Louisville is unlike other teams. They will go full court all game, with an in your face style that will wear you down.
That will significantly test the lack of depth for Syracuse. The key is when Syracuse gets into the half court, they have to be efficient. That means Gbinije continuing his recent stellar play, Christmas rebounding from back to back subpar performances, and Trevor Cooney finding his shooting stroke once again.
The loss of Jones for Louisville impacts them more defensively than it does on the offensive end of the floor. Snider is not as good as Jones in that area, and may help the Orange beat the constant Louisville pressure. It certainly hurts the Cardinals press.
Under rated in this matchup is the production of Tyler Roberson. He was fantastic on the boards against Duke and that type of effort will be needed in this one. The Cardinals are a very good rebounding team, and the efforts of Roberson and Christmas on the glass will be important.
On the inside, Louisville has three solid rim protectors in Onuaku, Harrell and Mangok Mathiang. The Cardinals will play a 2-3 zone that morphs into a 3-2 at times in the half court. That gives their bigs some freedom to help on the weak side, meaning Christmas could get doubled late in order to bring another shot blocker into the picture.
It also means that when Gbinije tries to attack the rim, he will be tested by some talented defenders.
Neither team has a deep bench, and both rely on their starters for their offensive production. This will be an interesting battle of stamina for both teams, and ball handling for Syracuse. The Orange are looking to get their first win over a ranked opponent, a big goal for the final six games of the season. Louisville wants to get back on track after a disappointing home loss to NC State. Should be a fun one in the Carrier Dome.