#10 Syracuse vs. #1 North Carolina. If you had this matchup lined up then you are either lying or a big Cuse fan. The Orange have gotten a little lucky (with the missed 10-second call) and such, but that’s needed to get this far. They’ve also been really clutch. The Tar Heels have had their moments of weakness but their front court has been big (pun intended).
Brice Johnson has been the best player for North Carolina this year and it’s not just about the numbers. Johnson has provided the energy and athleticism that has powered this Tar Heel team when they really needed it. Kennedy Meeks stepped in and played well to begin the second half in the last round, and Theo Pinson was able to pitch in from the bench.
There’s just so many potential layers with this Carolina team that present different obstacles for opponents. When they aren’t playing well they are susceptible to scoring droughts and weak perimeter defense. But the natural pace with which the Tar Heel offense flows allows them the opportunity to kick things in gear (literally) when they need a change of pace.
Marcus Paige hasn’t needed to carry the team this year and recently he hasn’t even been the best starting point guard. Joel Berry has been scoring and taking care of the ball just enough to keep things moving on offense. Justin Jackson has also been a steady asset (albeit without much shooting offered).
Syracuse has fewer guys to talk about and it’s not because they are down a scholarship or two (though UNC should be too, but that’s a whole different topic). The Orange typically only use a 7-man rotation, even though they have a few bodies that could contribute if in a pinch (most notably Kaleb Joseph).
Tyler Lydon is the bench that basically players starter minutes and gives starter production. He’s a McDonald’s All-American who can shoot the 3 and rebound the ball and swat shots like it’s his shot (cuz it kinda is). But Lydon needs to be that guy and hold up without fouling too much, because Dajuan Coleman isn’t the guy needed to play big minutes and/or to run up and down the court all night.
Freshmen swingman Malachi Richardson stepped up in a really big way in the last round with a second half that won Syracuse the game. He’s a long guy with decent range who can take it to the rim. That will be needed in the trees against Carolina, especially because one of their big men (Tyler Roberson) is only 6’6.
Senior Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney will shoot all day regardless of their success but for the Orange to keep it close, they will need to get shots go down early and often. Gbinije is the point forward and must stay out of foul trouble while trying to guard the quicker, smaller guys in North Carolina’s backcourt.
If Syracuse wins this one it will be with defense. But long range shooting at the end of the game is something they really can do and so the score may never be too out of reach. While they previously lost to UVA it didn’t matter the second time around. With two losses to UNC already it might asking a lot to expect the same. Roy Williams seems to pull one out of nowhere every so often and this program might need a National Championship to keep them afloat if they actually (fat chance) receive the punishment they deserve. North Carolina 76, Syracuse 74.