Following an 84-74 road victory in their rematch against N.C. State on Saturday, the North Carolina men’s basketball team is returning to the Dean E. Smith Center, where it posts a 14-2 record.
The Tar Heels will face off against a Syracuse team that is looking to rebound after suffering their second-largest home defeat in head coach Jim Boeheim’s 46-year tenure against Duke on Saturday.
Syracuse currently sits in eighth place in the ACC, but if UNC’s home loss to Pittsburgh indicates anything, it’s that the Tar Heels can’t sit back and expect a win.
Here are several things North Carolina must focus on to ensure success against the Orange on Monday — and potentially pick up a win to strengthen its position in the NCAA Tournament field.
Learn from last time
It’s been nearly a year since these two teams last matched up on March 1, 2021, when UNC suffered a close 72-70 loss. In this game, UNC was plagued by turnovers and numerous unsuccessful trips to the foul line. Despite being plus-20 in rebounding, UNC had 20 turnovers and were just 14 of 22 from the foul line.
Going into Monday’s matchup, the Tar Heels need to avoid traps and turnovers against Syracuse’s zone defense and take full advantage of any free throw opportunities they are given.
Against the 2-3 zone defense of Syracuse, North Carolina will have plenty of opportunities to shoot the three. The key, though, is knocking down those shots.
Despite the cohesion of graduate forward Brady Manek and junior big man Armando Bacot, the Syracuse defense is known for being especially stingy in contesting high-low action. The key to alleviating this pressure inside will be a threatening performance from distance, and it's up to UNC’s guards to make that happen.
Feed the big man
Exploiting Syracuse’s weakness in the paint will be critical. With Jesse Edwards out for the season due to a fractured wrist, the Orange are without a formidable post presence. This mismatch on the boards is something the Tar Heels can use to their advantage come Monday night.
In Saturday’s win over N.C. State, Bacot became the first Tar Heel ever to record at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a single game.
With a lackluster Syracuse presence in the paint, the Tar Heels should emphasize getting the ball to Bacot on Monday and letting him go to work over Frank Anselem and Bourama Sidibe.
Shutting down Buddy
Buddy Boeheim, a senior guard for Syracuse who leads the Orange in points per game, has hit a hot streak.
Boeheim is averaging 19.1 points on 40.6 percent shooting and is coming off a team-high 23-point performance against Duke. The Tar Heels need to watch for Boeheim on the perimeter and be prepared to step up and defend his mid-range jumper.
In his first matchup of the year against the Blue Devils on Jan. 22, Boeheim had his worst performance of the season, scoring just seven points. Duke’s emphasis on perimeter defense held Boeheim to a frustrating 1-10 from behind the arc.
In a likely defensive matchup with senior wing Leaky Black, — who is expected to play after hyperextending his right knee against the Wolfpack — the Tar Heels can use their ace perimeter defender to disrupt Boeheim’s flow and produce a similar result.
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