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NC State hits the road searching for an answer to Syracuse’s Buddy system

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It’s a big bubble bellwether battle!

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been six years since Syracuse managed any better than an eight-seed in the NCAA tournament, and in the time since, the Orange are only four games over .500 in ACC games. The program’s baseline lately has been one side of the bubble or the other, and frankly, they need to cut that shit out—that’s our thing. There’s only enough room for one Bubble U. in this conference.

Syracuse again finds itself struggling for tournament consideration, though its outlook is a lot better than it was a month ago, when the Orange were 1-3 in league play and 8-7 overall. A five-game winning streak that included a win at Virginia rejuvenated their season, but they’ve now lost two of three, including a game at Clemson.

NC State and Syracuse aren’t all that different, really.

Syracuse Offense

2020 Orange Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Orange Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 113.2 (21) 51.5 (85) 16.7 (41) 29.6 (119) 34.5 (117)

Syracuse lost a lot of production off of last year’s team, though none of the guys who left were exceptional shooters. So the Orange had a lot of possessions to replace, but with the right distribution and some developmental progress internally, they could at least hold steady.

Which they did, and then some: they are 21st in offensive efficiency after finishing 2019 in 59th. This group shoots the ball better across the board and takes better care of the ball as well. Elijah Hughes has been excellent in the lead role, while Buddy Boeheim has developed into an elite jump shooter as a sophomore.

Syracuse takes a lot of threes (44.5% of all shots), which is a crutch to a detrimental degree for them at times, and the Orange are paper-thin, so if one guy is having a bad day, there basically are no alternatives.

Hughes has gone the distance 16 times this season, and has gotten a grand total of nine minutes of rest since January 1. Boeheim has played the full 40 minutes in four straight games. There is no reason to expect either of them to get a breather on Tuesday night, unless of course the game is a total disaster for NC State and the Orange pull way ahead.


Joseph Girard (6’1, 181) — There’s a lot to be encouraged about with Girard, though he’s not a consistent difference-maker yet. He’s done well for a freshman to avoid too many turnovers at the point, and he’s a 92% free throw shooter. He’s at 32.9% from three, though, and has made only 43% of his twos. He’s taking threes about twice as often.

Buddy Boeheim (6’6, 195) — Boeheim shot over 40% from three during league play last year and carried over that progress into 2020—he’s become more consistent from beyond the arc despite the fact that the NCAA moved back the line. He accounts for a huge chunk of Syracuse’s shots, and you can bet the vast majority will be jumpers. Boeheim tends not to provide much beyond that.

Elijah Hughes (6’6, 215) — Hughes and Boeheim account for more than half of Syracuse’s shots when they’re on the floor together, which is all the time, essentially. Hughes is a far more versatile scorer and just plain good all around. He’s also become a better distributor this year, which is handy since he has the ball a whole lot more often.

Marek Dolezaj (6’10, 185) — He’s been a good low-usage role player throughout his career but this year has added an impressive ability to get to the free throw line, where he’s shooting a career-best 71.6%. That’s meant a lot to the Orange this year.

Bourama Sidibe (6’10, 210) — Sidibe is a solid paint scorer in an extremely light-usage role, but he’s there to be the team’s anchor at the defensive end. He is Syracuse’s best defensive rebounder and shot blocker but practically lives in foul trouble—he averages seven fouls per 40 minutes and has fouled out of three straight games.


Quincy Guerrier (6’7, 220). Syracuse has other guys who might steal a minute or three here and there, but Guerrier is the only one who gets substantial time on a regular basis. He is rebounding well at both ends and has hit 59% of his twos in a secondary role.

Syracuse Defense

2020 Orange Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Orange Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 100.8 (141) 47.4 (94) 19.8 (120) 32.0 (319) 29.5 (114)

As usual, the 2-3 zone has made Syracuse’s defensive rebounding a significant liability. The Orange have ranked 300th or lower in this category in four of the last five years, though that’s hardly a death sentence if they’re good where they need to be. Syracuse has had some elite defenses despite poor rebounding thanks to a combination of forcing a lot of missed shots and generating lots of turnovers as well.

This year the Orange rank 15th in block rate but have been just average in 2FG% defense and their ability to force turnovers isn’t what it was a year ago. With appropriate levels of patience and execution, the zone doesn’t have to be so scary.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Syracuse by five.