NCAA Basketball Syracuse Orange

5 Essential Elements to Knocking Off Undefeated Syracuse Orange

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Syracuse Orange: How to beat college basketball's No. 1 team

Syracuse
Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange is conquerable. The Pittsburgh Panthers proved that again on Wednesday night in the teams' second matchup of ACC play.

The Panthers led by as many as nine points in the second half and were within 4.4 seconds of upending the unbeaten Orange, before SU point guard Tyler Ennis thwarted Pitt's hopes of playing the role of giant-killer.

With Syracuse trailing 56-55, the freshman took the inbounds pass and drilled a 35-foot prayer to salvage a victory for the Orange. It was the narrowest win of the season for the nation's No. 1 team. Syracuse and the No. 4 Wichita State Shockers remain the lone undefeated teams in the nation.

After the game, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim even said the shot was a little bit lucky. It was good fortune that allowed the Orange to escape the Petersen Events Center with a come-from-behind win.

Despite a 24-0 record and an 11-0 record in conference, SU's win over Pittsburgh was the latest display of its vulnerability. Seven teams have come within six points of upending the unbeaten Orange this season. Pittsburgh and the Duke Blue Devils each lost by only one basket over the past two weeks. Although the Panthers lost Wednesday's game, they provided SU's upcoming opponents with a blueprint for how the nation's No. 1 team can be taken down.

North Carolina State will be the next ACC team to try and upend the Orange for the first time as they're playing right as we speak. Here are the five crucial elements of a team's approach that are necessary to beat the Syracuse Orange this season.

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Extend the 2-3 zone

Syracuse
Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports

The Orange zone can become overly aggressive at times with each of the center defenders creeping up to help on dribble penetration, and the two low outside defenders often extending to the arc. Pittsburgh was able to exploit this brand of defense with quick passes and often finding Talib Zanna slicing to the basket in the high post or behind the defense in the low block.

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Shoot over the zone

Syracuse
Charles LeClaire- USA TODAY Sports

Boeheim's zone is susceptible to leaving players open around the arc as defensive players slide to cover the ball. Pittsburgh and Duke proved the value of three-point shooting in each of their contests against Syracuse this season. Pitt guard Lamar Patterson was able to open up a second-half lead over the Orange, while Duke's hot shooting from three-point range allowed the Blue Devils to hang around and force overtime.

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Minimize the number of turnovers on offense

Syracuse
Rich Barnes- USA TODAY Sports

Ennis and Trevor Cooney lead the ACC in steals per game with 2.2 and 2.1 steals per game, respectively. The guards at the top of the zone feast on lazy passes and SU as a whole enjoys scoring easy buckets in transition. The less turnovers a team commits, the more the Orange is forced to play in half-court sets.

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Control the rebounding battle

Syracuse rebounding
Rob Kinnan- USA TODAY Sports

As a team, the Orange are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the ACC. Syracuse yields an offensive rebound on 32.3 percent of opponents' shots, which is fourth-worst in the conference. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh out-rebounded SU 35-24, and scored 15 second-chance points to Syracuse's three.

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Bottle up Ennis and CJ Fair in crunch time

ennis
Rich Barnes- USA TODAY Sports

The only thing that Pittsburgh struggled to do down the stretch against the Orange was contain Ennis and C.J. Fair. Both players scored five points with under two minutes left to erase a six-point deficit and help the team remain unblemished. Fair, the senior forward, is the one likely to have the ball in his hands in close games, yet, Ennis is 8-of-9 from the field in the final five minutes one-possession games this season. Frightening for SU opponents.