All-time series: North Carolina leads 7-4
Date: Saturday, April 2
Time: 8:49 p.m. ET
Location: NRG Center (Houston, Texas)
Who would've thought a month ago Syracuse would have a game in April? Well, that's exactly what it has, as the Orange will face top-seeded North Carolina in the national semifinals at NRG Center in Houston on Saturday.
When the Tar Heels are playing its best, they get out and run in transition, hit 3-pointers and dominate the glass like no other team in the country. When they're playing their best, I strongly believe they're as close to unbeatable as it comes this season in college basketball. They're that good.
UNC is led by Marcus Paige, an incredibly accurate 3-point shooter over his four-year career despite his shooting slump this season. He still managed to shoot 35 percent from 3, and averaged just under 12.5 points per game. Joel Berry is another name to remember for his ability to shoot from deep, which was a team-high 37 percent this season. He was also second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game. Coming off the bench, as Syracuse fans know all too well, Nate Britt is also a threat to hit from deep.
While the Heels' can get out and run, Brice Johnson puts them over the edge as, in my opinion, the best team on paper still remaining. The forward averages a double-double, 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds, and also shoots just under 80 percent from the line.
In both games Syracuse took the Tar Heels down to the wire, ultimately losing both. The Orange led late in the game at the Carrier Dome, and trailed by three on its final possession at the Dean Dome, which ended in a five-point loss. To say Syracuse needs a miracle would be overreacting, because the Orange have proved it can hang with the Heels. With that said, SU needs to play its best game of the season to have a shot at playing Monday night.
Three things to watch:
UNC inside: Led by Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina's inside game is among the best in the country. Syracuse's Tyler Lydon has been incredible so far this tournament with his 18 blocks over four games. SU will need contributions from Dajuan Coleman, as well as Tyler Roberson inside. Even if the Heels come out shooting poorly, it can always rely on Johnson, Meeks and Hicks to have success inside.
Richardson/Lydon: Against Gonzaga, Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon combined for 14 points. Against Virginia, the two had 34 points in a stellar performance, especially from Richardson. The Orange will need vintage Malachi to show up, along with a tough, aggressive Tyler Lydon. As we've seen, these two requirements aren't far-fetched. But to keep up with UNC's ability to score, SU will need contributions across the board.
Turnovers: In its two losses to North Carolina this season, Syracuse had a combined 28 turnovers. It's easy to say turnovers were a main factor in why the Orange lost, and rightfully so, but SU has a chance at redemption on Saturday. Gbinije, Cooney and Howard will need to take care of the ball against North Carolina's pesky guards. There can't be any lackadaisical plays against this Carolina team.