The Syracuse Orange are off to a 15-0 start this season, and there’s no doubt that they’re one of the top teams in the country. But they’re bound to have a tough game on Saturday against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Despite North Carolina losing its first two conference games of the season, the Tar Heels are capable of taking down the Orange in the Carrier Dome. The key to Syracuse avoiding an upset will be how well they rebound the basketball.
The Tar Heels are a little thin in the backcourt this season, and they don’t have a lot of capable three-point shooters — something that can be a problem against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. But North Carolina makes up for their lack of shooting with a lot of size in their frontcourt with players like James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks making the Tar Heels one of the few teams that can match up to the size and length Syracuse has on the back line of their zone defense year after year.
That size up front for North Carolina has made them one of the top rebounding teams in the country this season. Meanwhile, one of the weaknesses of a zone defense is that it makes a team vulnerable to giving up offensive rebounds as there are no specific block out assignments in a zone. Since the Tar Heels don’t shoot the ball well from the outside they’ll have to crash the boards and hope to score a lot of second chance points in order to keep pace with the Orange.
Of course, that strategy could backfire for the Tar Heels, because if they sent multiple players to the boards and don’t corral the rebound it leaves them vulnerable to giving up transition points which is a Syracuse specialty year after year. The Orange aren’t an elite rebounding team, especially since their centers aren’t always reliable in that department, but they rebound as a team. Wing players in the zone, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, are the team’s leading rebounders, and their guards generally help out rebounding the ball as well.
After a horrifying performance in their ACC opener, the Orange blew away Virginia Tech on Tuesday in part because they dominated the Hokies on the boards. However, North Carolina will be a much more challenging team to rebound against. If the Orange can hold their own on the boards and keep the rebounding numbers close to even, they should be able to remain undefeated. But if the Tar Heels can show a sense of urgency following an 0-2 start in ACC play and beat up the Orange on the boards, an upset could be possible.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.