After Elijah Hughes went down with an early injury, the Syracuse men’s basketball team put up a hell of a fight against the Wolfpack, but ultimately ran out of gas down the stretch. It was a tough pill to swallow, as for much of the game the Orange looked like the better team. But missed layups, costly turnovers, and dead legs would prove to be too much for Syracuse to overcome.
With the loss, SU now faces the stark reality of being on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. A win against FSU would be a tremendous way to offset the NC State loss, but that will prove to be a difficult task, especially if Elijah Hughes is ruled out.
With that, let’s take a look at the five keys to the game and what to watch for on Saturday.
1. Will he or won’t he?
Let’s keep it right there with Hughes. Whether or not he can go will ultimately decide if the Orange have a realistic shot at an upset. Even with him the odds aren’t good. But if he can’t go, it becomes a far more likely that Syracuse basketball loses.
The problem here is that groin injuries are very tricky. If it’s a very minor tweak, he could be back to nearly full strength in a few days. If it’s more serious, who knows what the time table will be? Some can linger for weeks. There’s also the risk of re-injury if it is more severe.
Hughes himself sent out an encouraging two-word tweet on Wednesday.
Let’s hope that’s the case and Hughes can go on Saturday.
2. Offensive consistency
The biggest problem facing the Orange offense is consistency. For some reason, this offense goes from a high-octane, score-at-will juggernaut to a slow, plodding, grind it out team that forces bad shots in the blink of an eye. Crisp passing turns into lazy dribbling. Smart, controlled drives turn into wild, turnover-laden romps.
We have a very hard time playing 40 minutes of good, consistent offense, and it has already cost us many games. As bad as the defense has been at times, it is the stagnation of the offense and inability to get consistent buckets down the stretch that has been the Orange’s Achilles’ Heel, especially in conference play.
In all of our ACC losses (minus Duke), we had a lead in the second half. We were up by six against NC State with six minutes to go. Against Clemson we had a three point lead with less than three minutes left. We had leads against both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in the final ten minutes as well.
We need to finish strong against Florida State to have any chance. If we win the scoring battle in the second half, we can win the game. If we lose it, we have almost no chance.
3. Size from 1-5
There are a number of teams in the ACC that have been playing small ball lineups and have lack a lot of interior size. Unfortunately, Florida State isn’t one of them. Florida State is big and tall at every position, from 6-foot-6 point guard Devin Vassell to seven-foot-one center Balsa Koprivica.
Joining Vassell in the back court is 6-foot-4 Trent Forrest. In the front court, Patrick Williams, RaiQuan Gray, and Malik Osborne are all 6-foot-8 or taller, and combine to average 20.9 points and 11.7 rebounds per contest.
The Orange are going to have their hands full top to bottom with the Seminoles. Staying out of foul trouble and forcing FSU into contested shots is really the only path I can see to a Syracuse win. It’s going to be a tall order against a tall Florida State team.
4. The Guerrier Effect
Quincy Guerrier had himself a game against NC State. He scored a career-high 16 points and added 10 rebounds for only his second double-double of the season. More importantly, he looked dynamic on offense, slashing to the hoop both with and without the ball to great effect. He could still use some fine-tuning to his finishes, as he missed a few shots that he probably shouldn’t, but that will come with time.
What I saw was an impressive young man who has made great strides with his game. The quickness he displayed and the solid offensive awareness are both skills he wasn’t able to showcase earlier in the year. He has made some great progress as a freshman, and I’m excited to see how he continues to develop.
He is going to need to have a huge game again against Florida State if the Orange are going to have a chance, especially if Elijah Hughes can’t go. Hopefully he’s up to the challenge and can have another solid outing to give the Orange a chance down the stretch.
5. More from Marek
Marek Dolezaj has quietly been having a fantastic junior season. He is finally developing into the player a lot of us imagined after the sensational end to his freshman year. Dolezaj is averaging 10.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, more than doubling his numbers from last season.
However, if Hughes can’t go, Dolezaj is going to need to step up even more. He had a number of misses from close that he normally makes against NC State as well as several offensive fouls, and that just can’t happen against Florida State.
I think Dolezaj will shake it off and have a solid performance against the Seminoles. But even if he and Guerrier both have great games, will it be enough to overcome Florida State? We’ll find out on Saturday.
Let us know what you think will happen in the comments.
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