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Syracuse hasn’t played since Dec. 18 after its game last Wednesday against Siena was postponed due to COVID-19-related issues in the Saints program. The Orange now carry a six-game win streak into their third Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season against North Carolina and have outscored their opponents by at least 30 points over the last four games.
On Thursday, Syracuse will head to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for its first game away from the Carrier Dome since the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. It faces a ranked UNC team that has won each of its 11 games of the season and is outscoring its opponents by a margin of 33.2 points per game, the highest in the country, while scoring 83.6 points per game.
Here is everything you need to know before Syracuse (8-4, 1-1 ACC) takes on No. 24 North Carolina (11-0, 1-0 ACC).
Syracuse leads, 8-5.
Last time they played
Syracuse held on to a 12-point home victory in January to secure a crucial conference victory. The Orange, then ranked 23rd nationally, led by just three at halftime but then allowed 30 points in the third quarter, and UNC led 67-61 heading into the final frame. But Syracuse prevailed, scoring 27 fourth quarter points to the Tar Heels’ nine, winning the game 88-67 and cementing a 7-1 start to the season — with the only loss coming against UNC one month beforehand.
Kiara Lewis posted a team-high 23 points, Tiana Mangakahia recorded a double-double with 19 points and 13 assists and was involved in 24 of Syracuse’s fourth-quarter points. The Orange’s defense emerged late in the game recording six blocks, 10 defensive rebounds and three steals in the fourth quarter. The win secured a three-game ACC win streak amid a period of COVID-19 related cancellations, similar to the situation Syracuse finds itself in ahead of Thursday’s contest.
The Tar Heels report
UNC is off to its best start since the 2010-11 season when it opened the season on a 14-game win streak. Now the Tar Heels are 11-0 but have faced just two teams that are over .500 — Boston College and Washington. Still, UNC has consistently recorded high-scoring victories, having only scored fewer than 80 points in four games.
Unlike Syracuse, whose youngest starter is a redshirt sophomore, UNC has put together one of the best young starting units in the country. The Tar Heels have started four sophomores in every game this season and are led offensively by Anya Poole, who has a 60.5% field goal percentage, No. 15 nationally.
UNC’s defensive unit will be by far Syracuse’s biggest challenge this season. It allows a 32% field goal percentage per game and is led by Poole’s 1.82 blocks per game (20 total blocks) and Alyssa Ustby’s 20 steals and 66 defensive rebounds.
How Syracuse beats North Carolina
While UNC has the nation’s 19th-best 3-point field goal percentage (37.2%), only four players have attempted at least 10 3-pointers all season, and three of them are starters. Four of five Syracuse starters, on the other hand, have attempted over 30 3-pointers. Despite being the country’s 31st-best 3-point percentage, the Orange attempt 24.7 3s per game to UNC’s 14.9.
Offensively, Syracuse has to continue making its 3s. SU has made over a third of its 3-point attempts in each of its last seven games, but UNC’s added pressure around the arc will likely counter the Orange’s successful 5-out motion offense, the key reason to its success from deep. Defensively, Syracuse has been able to make teams uncomfortable using its full-court press and must keep UNC outside the paint.
With only a handful of consistent UNC 3-point shooters, forcing the Tar Heels to consistently shoot from deep may end up paying off for the Orange much like it did against Clemson, where Syracuse shot 46.4% from beyond the arc while Clemson shot just 15.8%.
Player to watch: Alyssa Ustby, guard, No. 1
Ustby is UNC’s most versatile player on both sides of the ball. She has scored 15 or more points in seven games this season, averaging 14.6 points per game. Ustby has also made a team-high 69 field goal attempts with a 53.1% success rate thus far. But she’ll create most of her damage against SU in the paint.
At 6-foot-1, Ustby has proven to be a consistent rebounder, recording 101 total rebounds and 9.2 rebounds per game, 52nd and 61st best nationally, respectively. The sophomore has recorded 19 more rebounds than Alaysia Styles, Syracuse’s rebounding leader, and can exploit an undersized Orange unit on the boards.
Stat to know: 50.5 opponent points per game
UNC’s scoring defense ranks 10th in the country and will be the toughest defensive unit Syracuse has faced so far this season since playing then-No. 23 South Florida. While Syracuse averages 80.2 points per game, scoring at least 79 points in its last seven games, the undefeated Tar Heels have yet to allow more than 73 points in a game, just three times allowing more than 50 points.
Syracuse will have to adapt from its recent string of landslide victories, as it will be pressured around the perimeter and heavily contested against a much taller Tar Heels side in the paint. But the Orange will be UNC’s most dominant scoring offense it has faced so far. If Syracuse can shoot the way it has been of late — recording 30.8 field goals per game — and outpace the Tar Heels, it will be able to overcome one of the nation’s best defensive units.
The post Opponent Preview: Everything to know about No. 24 North Carolina appeared first on The Daily Orange.