Iowa Hawkeyes (2-1) vs. Syracuse Orange (2-1)
Date: November 21, 2014
Time: 4:00 p.m. CT
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Line: Iowa -3
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For the second time in as many days, Iowa faces a ranked opponent at Madison Square Garden. But where we all thought that we'd only see Syracuse off an upset victory over Texas, it turns out that the Orange wanted to steal Iowa's thunder in the opposite direction. Jim Boeheim's squad shot just 36 percent (including an Iowa-like 4/17 from behind the three-point arc) and left the perimeter essentially undefended in a 14-point loss to Cal Thursday. It was as ugly as Iowa's loss earlier Thursday night, made uglier by the fact that it was Cal doing the work.
As a result, Syracuse enters Friday's consolation game a bit wounded, and the quick turnaround means that Boeheim hasn't had practice time to rally his troops. These troops might need some rallying; it looks like the Orange still haven't recovered from that loss to Boston College that ended their perfect season and sent them into a death spiral last year. Iowa might have looked overwhelmed last night against Texas, but Syracuse was almost lethargic in their loss, and lethargy doesn't usually work well when facing two NCAA Tournament-caliber teams in 24 hours.
Though the Orange might have been slouching, they are no slouch. While most of the core of that 2013-14 team is gone -- Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant went pro, C.J. Fair graduated -- Syracuse does still have the awesomely-named Rakeem Christmas (14.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) as a cornerstone in the frontcourt. Freshman forward Chris McCullough (6'10, 220, 13.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) was a consensus top 50 player in last year's recruiting class. Boeheim has a handful of other forwards -- Tyler Roberson, B.J. Johnson, Michael Gbinije -- that he can throw into the back line of his 2-3 zone defense when needed. Syracuse isn't as big as Texas, but the Orange are big enough when coupled with the force multiplier that is Boeheim's defense to make them formidable.
Where Syracuse has trouble is in the backcourt. Ennis's departure particularly hurts, as the Orange don't have a serious threat at point guard. Freshman Kaleb Joseph (6'3, 165) leads the team with 4.7 assists per game, but his outside shot is suspect and rarely used (he's taken exactly one three-point shot in three games) and his assist to turnover ratio is just 1.27. Junior guard Trevor Cooney (6'4, 195, 9.7ppg) is better with the ball, but he too is only a marginal outside threat. Syracuse does not shoot particularly well as a whole (45.6% effective rate, with just 26% from outside) but makes up for it with offensive rebounding.
The key for Syracuse, as always, is defense. If the Orange are able to clamp on their zone and harass opponents on the perimeter, they have little trouble forcing turnovers, and Boeheim has long since broken the code for rebounding out of a zone defense. Even with last night's defeat, the Orange are tenth nationally in defensive efficiency and are forcing some of the longest possessions of any team in the country. That means two things: They don't allow early shots, and they definitely don't allow transition buckets.
Unless Iowa magically learned overnight how to shoot in Madison Square Garden, it will need to break those tendencies if it is to win Friday afternoon. It's not a stretch to say that Iowa matches up favorably with the Orange (there's a reason why the Hawkeyes are a slight favorite despite the game being played in Syracuse's backyard) and Iowa's improved three-point shooting might stretch the Syracuse zone just enough to open up the interior. Syracuse's front line has also shown a tendency to get into foul trouble, a trait that Iowa is adept at exploiting in other teams. Unlike last night's game, Iowa should be able to simply do Iowa things and give itself a chance to win. Whether it can get over the hump is the story of the night, and of this season.