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Syracuse Visits Louisville With Their Tournament Hopes At Stake

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Cuse.Com
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As the 2019-2020 college basketball regular season draws to a close, Syracuse (14-11, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) finds themselves in a very familiar position: fighting for relevance on the NCAA Tournament bubble. As of January 25, the Orange had won five straight conference games, including road wins at Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. They were 13-7 with a chunk of quality wins under their belt, and the offense was clicking. The next five games did not bring nearly as much good fortune. Three weeks, and a 1-4 skid later, Syracuse's tournament chances have plummeted. 

One of their last chances to maintain their footing on the bubble comes tomorrow night, when they take on the No. 11 Louisville Cardinals (21-5, 12-3 Atlantic Coast) at the KFC Yum! Center. In what has amounted to a relatively weak year for the ACC, the Cardinals are an outlier. They've lost their last two games, most recently falling 77-62 at Clemson, who also has wins over Duke and North Carolina this season. However, this two-game skid is on the heels of a ten-game win streak, as the Cardinals, who have just one home loss, have cemented themselves as not only a conference favorite, but a near shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament. 

Syracuse nearly pulled off the road upset on Saturday at No. 8 Florida State, but the Seminoles prevailed 80-77 in a game that was arguably a must-win for SU. Wednesday's road test against one of the ACC's finest is more of the same. 

This game will pit the conference's two leading scorers against each other for the first and only time this season. Avergaing 18.9 points per game, Syracuse's Elijah Hughes has a slight edge on Louisville forward Jordan Nwora at 18.2 PPG. What separates the two is their secondary support, as no other Louisville player averages more than ten points per game (Steven Enoch, 9.9 PPG). Syracuse, on the other hand, features three other players averaging double digits in Buddy Boeheim (15.6), Joe Girard III (13.0) and Marek Dolezaj (10.4). With Elijah Hughes dealing with injuries over the last several games, the Orange offense has shown some capability without the conference's leading scorer in the lineup. If Syracuse can limit Jordan Nwora's chances, and Elijah Hughes stays healthy, Louisville's lack of a true second scoring option could make a difference in this one. 

Countdown to Tipoff Begins at 6:30 only on WAER, 88.3 FM

As is the case in many of Syracuse's recent games, foul trouble will almost certainly play a bigger role than it should in this one. The shallow depth chart of Orange big men leave the interior of Jim Boeheim's defense exposed game in and game out, given the quickness with which Bourama Sidibe (4 fouls/game), Marek Dolezaj (3 fouls/game), and even Jesse Edwards enter foul trouble. Louisville averages 39 rebounds a game, to Syracuse's 35, so it will be critical for the Orange to stay competitive on the boards against a fundamentally superior opponent.

Further, Louisville ranks 34th in the nation with 28 defensive rebounds a game. Senior forward Dwayne Sutton (6-5, 220 lbs) represents the bulk of that number, leading the Cardinals in the rebounding department at 8.4 boards per game. Marek Dolezaj, at 6-10, 185 pounds, leads the Orange with 6.8 boards per game, so the services of Bourama Sidibe and Jesse Edwards will be necessary on Wednesday night. 

The shooting of Hughes, Buddy Boeheim, and Joe Girard III have solidified Syracuse's identity as a three-point shooting machine that pulls early and often from behind the arc. Averaging just north of 33 percent, and holding opponents to 31 percent, this formula will enter the gauntlet against the Cardinals, who rank 12th in the country with an average of 38 percent from behind the arc. Jim Boeheim's zone has demonstrated some struggles defending the three-point line, and the Cardinals are as good a test as any for the defense to prove they belong in the tournament conversation. 

This game will come down to whether or not Syracuse's offense can not only keep pace with the balanced Cardinals attack, but establish some form of rhythm and consistency that creates opportunities for the likes of Boeheim and Girard without having to rely on Elijah Hughes in isolation every posession. The health of Hughes will be something to monitor as tipoff approaches, as he's sustained setbacks in each of his last two games, but has displayed his ability to play through it. 

The game will tip-off at 7:00 PM on Wednesday night, and can be seen on ESPN and heard on WAER, 88.3 FM.