Entering the heart of conference play, Syracuse (15-6, 4-4) travels to Georgia Tech (10-11, 3-5) Wednesday to play the first of three games over the course of six days.
The Orange is heading in the right direction, winning three straight. The victories were over ACC bottom-dwellers Pittsburgh (twice) and Boston College, but pushed Syracuse to an even 4-4 record in conference play this season.
On the flip side, the Yellow Jackets have dropped four in a row, most recently falling late to Clemson 72-70.
However, Georgia Tech is better than their record would indicate. Two of its top players Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson missed the beginning of the season after violating NCAA rules by accepting improper benefits.
Since returning, Okogie leads the team in scoring with 18.3 points per game, the fifth-highest mark in the conference. He is also the team's second-leading rebounder. Jackson is averaging 12 points per game, third most on the team.
Syracuse will be short-handed at guard as well, with Howard Washington listed as out for Wednesday’s showdown. That leaves Frank Howard and Tyus Battle as the only healthy guards on the roster. With Matthew Moyer also likely to miss the contest, Jim Boeheim will likely be very limited in his ability to substitute.
With a short bench, the Orange will likely look to slow down the pace of this game. Boeheim already has this team playing at the eighth-slowest rate in college basketball. The only team in the ACC with fewer possessions per 40 minutes is Virginia. Georgia Tech is not a team that tends to speed up play either, as they enter as the 25th slowest team in the country.
Additionally, Syracuse can control the boards. It enters the contest as the sixth-best offensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing 37.4 percent of possible offensive rebounds.
These two teams split the season series last year with each side winning at home. Syracuse had the last laugh, blowing out Georgia Tech on Senior Day in the Carrier Dome 90-61. Andrew White posted a career-high 40 points and Battle poured on an additional 22.
The concerning part for the Orange is that no current player other than Battle scored in that game. Howard only logged five minutes without hitting a shot. This is a totally different group that faces off against a mostly unchanged Yellow Jackets squad. Jackson, Okogie and Ben Lammers are all back for this year's affair.
Expect this to be a low-scoring slugfest. Both teams are in the top 40 in the nation in terms of points per game allowed. Syracuse sits at 63.2 while Georgia Tech sits a shade above that at 65.2. The Orange also boasts the fourth-best mark for opponents’ field goal percentage at 39.7.
Slowing down the game and capitalizing on second chances is exactly how the Orange can hope to win this matchup and snag a winning record in the conference before hosting second-ranked Virginia on Saturday.