The Syracuse Orange (20-12, 8-10) will face the University of North Carolina Tar Heels (22-9, 11-7) for the second time this season when they face off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Tonight's game marks the second round of play in the ACC Tournament. Syracuse is ranked eleventh in the tournament, while UNC is ranked sixth.
Just two weeks ago in the Dome, the Tar Heels narrowly escaped defeat in a 78-74 win over the Orange. Syracuse had three players, Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett, combine for 66 out of the team’s 74 total points. It is no secret that the team has been struggling with depth this season, but in yesterday’s first round win against Wake Forest there were some Orange faces who surprised us with their performances
Marek Dolezaj led the team with a career high 20 points and Paschal Chukwu followed with 14 right behind Battle's 18 point contribution. Dolezaj and Chukwu combined for 34 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. This is the best offensive performance from Dolezaj this season, and Chukwu was just one point shy of hitting his career-high 15 points.
While they had a standout performance last night, both players combined for just six points against UNC in the Dome 14 days ago. If Dolezaj and Chukwu bring even half of the fire that they had last night and the rest of the Syracuse starters play like they did against UNC the first time, the Orange stand a good chance of kicking the Tar Heels out of tournament play tonight.
Tonight’s game will be the first game of the tournament for UNC, while Syracuse is fresh off a win from last night. This could play as an advantage or disadvantage for the team, depending on how the recover. All five starters for the Orange played 35 minutes or more in last night’s game. Battle and Brissett didn't even step foot off the court during the period of the 40-minute game.
Syracuse has not relied on their bench this season, sticking to a steady rotation of six to seven players per game. This leaves many Orange fans wondering if their starters have the energy to overcome UNC tonight after last night's performance. Up for grabs for the Orange is the chance to make it into the NCAA Tournament, something that still may not be guaranteed for them.
Syracuse fans still have a sour taste in their mouths from the team’s post-season performance last year, losing to Miami in the first round of the ACC tournament and not qualifying for the NCAA tournament. The Orange would go on to lose to Ole Miss in the second round of the NIT.
The first time Syracuse and UNC met this season proved to be an exciting back and forth affair, but Orange fans all over are hopeful that Syracuse can come out on top in the hopes to advance into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their last Final Four appearance in 2016.