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Previewing Syracuse: It's always looking a lot like Christmas

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Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: Noon ET, Saturday, March 7

TV: CBS

Online streaming: none (?)

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Syracuse vitals

Record: 18-12 (9-8)
Pomeroy ranking: No. 59
RPI: No. 64
Wins vs. Pomeroy top-100: 5
Best win: Notre Dame (No. 16 in Pomeroy Ratings)
Worst loss: California (No. 123 in Pomeroy Ratings)

Adjusted tempo: 66.5 poss/40 minutes (ranks 90th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 103.9 (ranks 128th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 93.6 (ranks 28th)

Syracuse @ StatSheet
Syracuse roster
Syracuse schedule
Syracuse stats 2015

The Syracuse offense and starters

Syracuse Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 48.2 (229) 14.8 (14) 38.1 (14) 38.2 (239)
2014-15 47.7 (230) 17.9 (85) 33.6 (93) 35.6 (213)


Last year's Syacuse offense ranked 37th in offensive efficiency, while this one ranks 128th. The difference is in the turnover and rebounding categories, which is where the Orange have been hurt most significantly by departures.

Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair were the cornerstones of the Syracuse offense in 2014, and although neither one shot well, they were better at taking care of the ball than their successors. Ennis finished his freshman campaign with a turnover rate under 14%, which is a great number for a point guard. Ennis was replaced by Kaleb Joseph, who is turning the ball over about 28% of the time.

The Orange are also missing Jerami Grant and Baye Keita off last year's team--those two were fantastic rebounders at the offensive end, and Grant's turnover rate was just 11.3%. Keita had a high turnover rate but his involvement in the offense was so minimal it didn't make much difference.

Syracuse was made shorthanded by injury as well--promising freshman forward Chris McCullough had his season cut short by a knee injury, leaving the Orange with essentially no depth beyond their starting five.

That's put more pressure on Rakeem Christmas, Michael Gbinije, and Trevor Cooney to score consistently from game to game. For Christmas, it's generally been no problem--the improvements he's made since last season are marked, and he's become one of the most skilled post players in the ACC.

Gbinije is flourishing in a larger role as well, but Cooney ... man, Trevor Cooney. Occasionally great, but more often a detriment for his willingness to let shots fly at any time. Cooney is a career 33% three-point shooter, which is to say that his brazen efforts have him tip-toeing the line between confidence and delusion. He is 14-72 from three since the start of February. That's a span of nine games.

Starters

Kaleb Joseph (6-3, 165) -- Only 6-32 from three and shooting under 43% inside the arc. He has a good assist rate and he's a 72% free throw shooter.

Trevor Cooney (6-4, 195) -- In league play, Cooney is 41-146 (28.1%) from beyond the arc. There should be a term for these players--the ones who are only average at shooting the ball but will shoot the ball a bunch and thus are to be feared because on a good day they can make a huge difference. Cooney averages about nine threes per 40 minutes. He's gonna get his; shame is irrelevant.

Michael Gbinije (6-7, 200) -- Gbinije quietly (at least outside of the northeastern ACC footprint) has had a good year. His two-point accuracy is a career-high 51.5% to go with his career-high 39.8% three-point shooting.

Tyler Roberson (6-8, 212) -- Good rebounder at both ends, doesn't turn the ball over too much. He'll block some shots here and there and can be a decent occasional scorer in the paint.

Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 250) -- After three years as a secondary or tertiary option, Christmas finally got his opportunity to spearhead Syracuse's offense in 2015. He had always been a low-usage player--last year he only took about 11% of the Orange's shots while on the floor. This year that figure is 24.3%. The added workload cost him some effectiveness, but he's an excellent interior scorer. Good rebounder and shot blocker, too.

The Syracuse bench and defense

Reserves: B.J. Johnson (6-7, 185), Ron Patterson (6-2, 200), Chinonso Obokoh (6-9, 215). These are the only other Syracuse players who've logged minutes in ACC play, excluding the injured Chris McCullough. Johnson and Patterson are both threats to shoot the three, but they are a combined 25-112 from outside this season.

Syracuse Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 48.0 (110) 22.0 (15) 31.5 (175) 36.7 (97)
2014-15 46.3 (69) 21.3 (44)
31.3 (188) 30.3 (39)


The Orange still have the size to discourage attempts in the paint, and that there discouragement remains a staple of Jim Boeheim's 2-3 defense. Syracuse forces the majority of its opponents to settle for jump shots, and I think NC State will be happy to oblige. That's just on a normal day. Against a defense like Syracuse's, we could see something more extreme from the Pack.

Just as long as Ralston Turner sees that Syracuse orange as Tennessee orange, we should be fine.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by six.