With a tournament push in full swing, Syracuse (17-8, 6-6) has six games left on its schedule, and not one will be easy. The first of those six is a home matchup against NC State (16-9, 6-6).
The Orange’s victory over struggling Wake Forest on Sunday marked the team’s second consecutive win. Not coincidentally, the game was also the second straight in which Syracuse’s offense looked significantly better than usual. Over the last two games, SU has worked the ball inside more, which has created higher quality looks on the outside, frequent trips to the free throw line, and back-to-back outings with ten more points than the team’s season scoring average. However, as head coach Jim Boeheim noted, a third straight quality performance could be hard to come by with NC State coming to town.
"They're a good team. They beat North Carolina, and could've beaten them twice. They're a really good team. We'll see what happens Wednesday," said Boeheim.
The Wolfpack comes into the dome tied with Syracuse in ACC standings, but many would consider them the stronger team. NC State has wins against Arizona, Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina this season, and despite their nine losses, three of them came during a 7-game suspension of starting point guard, Markell Johnson.
The Wolfpack’s offensive attack is a rather balanced one, with Johnson being right in the thick of things. The sophomore comes in against SU averaging 11 assists per game over his team’s last five, and an ACC-leading 7.8 assists on the season. As a team, NC State’s balanced attack can be felt across its top six scorers, who all average within six points of each other. Furthermore, the Wolfpack’s current leading scorer, Allerick Freeman, only averages 14.1 points per game.
With March in the not-too-distant future, Wednesday’s matchup is crucial for both sides. Like SU, NC State enters the dome on its own tournament push. Despite being tied with the Orange in the ACC, the Wolfpack’s resume-boosting wins seem to have them in an incrementally better spot in the tournament hunt. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has NC State just making the cut, currently including them on his “Last Four In” list. On the other hand, Syracuse is less fortunate, landing on Lunardi’s list of “First Four Out” teams who just barely miss March Madness. Regardless, an SU win would certainly change those predictions, and the Orange has a chance to get it done in front of its home crowd.
The Orange is 7-3 all-time versus the Wolfpack, with the teams’ last meeting ending in a 100-93 SU overtime win in Raleigh. Tipoff at the dome is set for 9:00.