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Syracuse easily handled its two nonconference opponents to begin the 2021-22 season, relying on fast-paced play to exhaust Monmouth and Morgan State en route to blowout wins. But sandwiched in between those victories was a brutal Atlantic Coast Conference loss to Notre Dame, one that featured a 21-0 run from the Fighting Irish in the final eight minutes of the game.
The Orange’s shooting rebounded on Wednesday after going just 25% from the field, but their accuracy from deep has cooled off significantly. Chrislyn Carr and Jayla Thornton have notched a combined nine points in two games after double-digit scoring performances in the season-opener. Najé Murray and Christianna Carr have taken over those spots as seasoned transfers who led the way against Morgan State.
Then there is Teisha Hyman, who is returning from her second ACL tear. She leads SU in points per game (14) and rebounds per game (7.7), while dishing out 10 assists through the Orange’s first three matchups. Hyman cited her “instincts” as the reason for the stellar start.
Syracuse heads down to the Bahamas to face its first ranked opponent of the season. South Florida is coming off its first ever American Athletic Conference tournament win and a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls just lost to Tennessee by three points on the road.
Before the Orange (2-1, 0-1 ACC) take on USF (2-1, 0-0 AAC) in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, here’s what you need to know about the Bulls.
USF leads 6-5.
Last time they played
The last time Syracuse matched up against USF, both programs belonged to the Big East. In 2013, the then-No.21 ranked SU was upset by the Bulls, losing by one basket. It was Syracuse’s first loss of that season, leading to a spiral of defeats that ended with a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. Carmen Tyson-Thomas led Syracuse with 17 points, and Brittney Sykes added 12 points with eight rebounds.
But the Orange ultimately squandered a 13-point lead to USF, culminating in a basket by Akila McDonald with 24 seconds left to seal the game for the Bulls. Syracuse was outscored in the second half 42-29.
The Bulls report
USF retained both of its top scorers from last year’s conference championship team, and both players regained their spots atop the scoring charts for the Bulls. Sophomore Elena Tsineke averages 15.5 points per game, and Sydni Harvey leads the team in shooting percentage from the field. Overall, the Bulls are shooting 35.9% from the field and have been out-rebounded through their first three games. Still, USF is an above-average team from deep, connecting on 31.5% of 3s.
How Syracuse beats USF
Size will always be an issue this season for Syracuse, even with the emergence of Christianna as a rebounding machine. But the Orange can counteract their lack of size against a ranked opponent by continuing their high press displayed against Morgan State. USF won’t shoot the lights out like Notre Dame did, so SU’s pressing approach likely won’t become obsolete if it keeps the game close with the Bulls.
Syracuse averages nearly six more steals than USF, and the Bulls haven’t forced many turnovers. So if Syracuse can penetrate inside, utilize Christianna as a dual-threat shooting and rebounding option to open up lanes, the Orange could hang around long enough to beat their first ranked opponent to potentially set up a rematch with UConn.
Player to watch: Bethy Mununga, forward, No. 20
Mununga is tied for 10th in the country in rebounds per game with 12. Her presence in the paint is one that the Orange probably can’t handle for all 40 minutes. The senior racked up accolades last year, including being named to the AAC All-Conference First Team and All-Conference Tournament Team. Her only down game this year was against Alabama State, where she only pulled down five rebounds.
She’s not as tall as Syracuse forward Eboni Walker, but she is certainly more powerful than Alaysia Styles, the Orange’s starting center. It’ll be another test down low for SU, a team that Read said relies heavily on its guards, like Hyman and Murray, to rebound.
Stat to know: 69% free-throw shooting
The Bulls are tied for 181st in the country in success from the free throw line. Their three missed free throws against Tennessee ultimately decided the game. Syracuse can capitalize on this by playing more aggressively down low and in its full-court press without the fear of losing the game at the charity stripe. The lack of success from South Florida can free up the defensive schemes SU needs to keep the game close.
The post Opponent Preview: Everything to know about No. 23 South Florida appeared first on The Daily Orange.