C Rakeem Christmas – Syracuse: This one will be tough to watch for ‘Cuse fans as this will be the absolute last time Christmas suits up for the Orange. Coming off of a rough stretch of games against Duke and Virginia, Christmas will look to finish out his four-year career with Syracuse on a positive note. Averaging nearly a double-double, Christmas should be able to take advantage of a front line that has been beaten badly at times this season.
SG Trevor Cooney – Syracuse: Closing out yet another inconsistent year shooting the ball for Syracuse, Cooney will look to close out on a positive note as well. Much like last season, Cooney has struggled with consistency on his long-range shots and didn’t put the ball on the floor enough down the stretch to give Syracuse another option offensively. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Cooney comes out and lights the net on fire from beyond the arc in the final meaningless game of the season.
PG Anthony “Cat” Barber – N.C. State: Averaging 11.8 points-per-game to go along with nearly 4 assists and 3 rebounds per game, Barber is the catalyst at both ends for the Wolf Pack. He’s the floor general for head coach Mark Gottfried, who has said Barber is the most important player in the program. A jack-of-all-trades, Barber is a menace on defense and has a knack for hitting big shots in clutch situations.
SG Trevor Lacey – N.C. State: The redshirt junior transfer from Alabama has emerged into the No. 1 option offensively for the Wolf Pack, averaging nearly 17 ppg. A multi-dimensional offensive threat, Lacey makes his living from beyond the arc where he’s hitting threes at a 40.6 percent clip, which is best on the team for N.C. State. When Lacey is connecting from deep, it’s very hard to knock him off his game because he’s adept at getting into the lane and hitting tough shots or drawing fouls.
SYRACUSE OFFENSE VS. N.C. STATE DEFENSE
The final game of Rakeem Christmas’ career has to have him be the focal point of the Syracuse offense yet again. Coming off of two rough outing where he drew double teams and had difficulty finding room to operate, Christmas will be determined to give Orange fans a show one last time.
Playing right into the strength of the offense, Christmas will need to continue to display an impressive ability to pass out of double teams and find open shooters. Should Jim Boeheim go with Michael Gbinije at point guard again on Saturday over freshman Kaleb Joseph, the Orange will have shooters littered around the arc. The trick will be those shooters in Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and B.J. Johnson knock down open shots with consistency, which they struggled mightily with against Virginia, Monday.
With the shooters around the arc for Syracuse, sophomore power forward Tyler Roberson will have room to operate in and around the paint, which is where he’s put in most of his best work this season. When Roberson has lanes to cut to the rim, he’s very hard to stop completely. When those lanes disappear Roberson is relegated to a jump-shooter, which isn’t his strength.
Defensively, N.C. State will rely on Anthony “Cat” Barber to create havoc on the perimeter, which could create easy turnovers that could lead to buckets in transition. In the paint the Wolf Pack should have BeeJay Anya in the game a lot with Christmas and Roberson on the floor. Anya leads N.C. State with 81 blocks this season.
The second-chance opportunities for the Orange could be there against the Wolf Pack, but that load will fall onto the shoulders of Roberson and Christmas once again. If those two can’t get boards with any regularity in this one, it could be the difference as N.C. State ranks 27th in the country with 38.1 rebounds per game.
N.C. STATE OFFENSE VS. SYRACUSE DEFENSE
Against the 2-3 N.C. State will continue to rely on its bread and butter – the 3-point shot. Averaging nearly 19 3-point attempts per game through the first 30 games, the Wolf Pack connects on more than 36 percent of its attempts, which has propelled them to big wins over Duke, UNC and Louisville, but has hurt them in losses to Boston College, Wofford and Purdue.
The focus offensively will be on Barber and shooting guard Trevor Lacey, who can both fill it up from beyond the arc. Add in swingman Ralston Turner, who connects on nearly 38 percent of threes while scoring more than 13 ppg, you have a potentially dynamic offense. However, the Wolf Pack haven’t consistently put it together in the offensive zone this season. Despite scoring nearly 71 ppg (93rd in the country), N.C. State has scored fewer than 60 points four times this season – three of which have been losses. That can be chalked up to the lack of creativity and teamwork offensively. Although Barber is a dynamic point guard, he doesn’t create a ton of open looks for teammates. As a team, N.C. State averages just 11.4 assists-per-game, which is 265th in the country.
To beat the zone the Wolf Pack will have to move the ball around and find the best shot possible. Teamwork and selflessness will be an absolute necessity for Gottfried’s team to win the final game of the season and roll into the ACC Tournament.
Expect Syracuse to come out with an intense, emotional display in Christmas’ final showing for the Orange, but N.C. State’s trio of scorers will be too much for Syracuse down the stretch. When the Wolf Pack is ready to play they’re very hard to beat, especially at home. Final score: N.C. State 73, Syracuse 68