When Providence and Syracuse last met they were two teams headed in opposite directions. That’s the good news for Friar fans.
After the Orange pulled away late in their 72-66 win at Providence last month (PC led by nine late in the first half and it was a one possession game with 4:30 left) they improved to 15-1 on the season and 3-0 in the Big East.
Things weren’t so pretty in Friartown. The loss was Providence’s fifth in a row and came off of an embarrassing effort at home against DePaul in which they were all but run off of their home court by a team that is now 2-10 in the conference.
The loss to Syracuse was a step in the right direction after falling to DePaul, Brown and Boston College, but for too many in Providence it had a similar feel as to so many defeats at the hands of Big East powers – when push came to shove the Orange locked down PC when they needed to and held them without a field goal for five of the game’s final six minutes.
The feeling in Providence is much different heading into Wednesday’s night’s big test at Syracuse. Ed Cooley’s bunch seems to have turned a corner in winning four in a row (two on the road and two against ranked teams at home), providing more intrigue this time around.
Still, the Carrier Dome can be cruel. Syracuse is undefeated at home this season, and only one Big East opponent (Cincinnati) has kept the game within ten points. Having gone 3-3 in their last six games, Syracuse may not seem as invincible as last season, but they’re still 21-4, #8 in the country, and feature a team that could make a case for three players on the Big East’s 1st Team by season’s end.
What to watch for versus Syracuse:
1. Can Kadeem Batts rebound? No, not rebound in that sense, but rebound from a difficult night the last time PC saw the Cuse. Batts finished just 1-8 from the field against the SU zone and finished with three points on the night. He’s playing the best basketball of his career right now, winning the conference’s Player of the Week award last week and being named to the Honor Roll for his efforts against South Florida and Notre Dame.
This time around he won’t be accompanied by Sidiki Johnson, was played an aggressive 19 minutes against the Orange in January. Still, Batts could prove to be the Friars’ most effective scorer in the middle of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.
PC will need him to be a monster Wednesday night.
2. Fair’s emergence. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche may be the names most fear when prepping for the Orange, and rightfully so, but CJ Fair has quietly turned himself into a potential 1st team performer as a junior.
The Baltimore native and Brewster Academy grad killed the Friars the last time around, scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 boards. Statistically, he’s one of the best shooters in the Big East from both the field and the free throw line, and from a matchup perspective has the length and terrific athleticism to cause Providence problems once again.
Fair, James Southerland and Rakeem Christmas give Syracuse a distinct size advantage in this one, and both Fair and Southerland are capable of winning a game offensively.
3. Trio logging huge minutes. Syracuse is a bit more top-heavy than last season, with Carter-Williams, Triche and Fair all in the top 10 in minutes played in the Big East (conference games). Fair rarely sits, playing nearly 39 minutes a night, while Triche and MCW are logging 36.
4. Good night, bad night for Syracuse the last time around. What’s frightening for Providence is that they lost to the Orange on a night in which they made 9-18 from three, while Syracuse shot just 3-21. A +18 from deep isn’t to be expected this time around.
Syracuse did shoot exceptionally well from the free throw line, making 17-18, which was their highest mark at the stripe since the 1997 season.
Neither stat may have been a complete anomaly, however, as in conference play Syracuse is the top free throw shooting team in the Big East, but linger around 41% from the field overall.
5. A different Friar backcourt. Defense and the explosion of Batts have been key factors in PC’s turn-around, but so has health. The game prior to Syracuse Cotton didn’t start after having his knee drained. Vincent Council was working his way back into the lineup and came off of the bench. Kris Dunn, having just returned, played only nine minutes against the Orange.
Despite playing through lingering injuries, the PC backcourt played very well the last time around with Council going for eight points and eight assist and Cotton scoring 24 points on 5-8 from deep (he got particularly hot in the first half, but was slowed in the second).
Defensively is where they may be more equipped. Providence spent much of the last meeting in a 2-3 zone, and they may revert back to that as Syracuse isn’t a great defensive team.
Dunn gives them a defensive presence they lacked the last time around, both at the top of the zone and in man to man. Carter-Williams made a number of back-breaking plays in the first meeting and Dunn could well be tasked with matching up with him.
Do the Friars dare press the Orange in an attempt to wear them down? That might be a risky game plan. Cooley has spoken this year about Syracuse’s tremendous open court ability, and leaving Batts on an island at the back-end of a press could get him in early foul trouble. Early foul trouble for Batts may spell doom in this one. The safer bet would be to dare a team shooting 41% to beat you in the halfcourt, while hoping to hold your own on the glass – another area Batts will have be a big factor in.
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Highlights of the last time these two met.