Get the latest Syracuse news delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe to our sports newsletter here.
Syracuse’s recent slide resulted from poor shooting and a continued penetration of the 2-3 zone, allowing massive chunks of points in the paint to No. 23 Virginia Tech and Florida State. But the gauntlet of the Atlantic Coast Conference continues on Sunday against one of the best teams in the nation.
The Orange travel to North Carolina to play No. 4 NC State, hoping to end a trend of seven straight losses against top 25 teams. They haven’t beaten a top five team in over two years and enter the game with their shooting percentage from the field recently dipping below 40%.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack are rolling, going into their first matchup with Syracuse on a five-game winning streak, one that features two battle-tested road wins and an 11-point win over then-No. 11 Georgia Tech. NC State has trampled top 25 teams all year, including an 18-point win against then-No. 2 Maryland and a 9-point win over then-No. 3 Louisville.
Here’s what to know before the Wolfpack’s (24-3, 15-1 ACC) matchup with the Orange (11-14, 4-11):
NC State leads, 8-4.
Last time they played
In Syracuse’s final regular season game last year, Kiara Lewis dropped 29 points, though it wasn’t enough to overcome the Wolfpack. While NC State did shoot just 11.1% from 3-point range, the Orange allowed 40 points in the paint and watched as three NC State players dropped at least 11 points.
Kamilla Cardoso and Emily Engstler both grabbed 10 rebounds in the contest, but four free throws in the final 17 seconds capped off the win for the Wolfpack. Syracuse actually held a one-point lead with a little over five minutes to go in the game after Lewis knocked down a 3 and eliminated a 13-point deficit. The back-and-forth in the final minutes, however, slowly tipped the game NC State’s way, ending SU’s regular season on a loss before the ACC Tournament.
The Wolfpack report
Statistically, NC State has put together one of the best seasons in college basketball. A perennial NCAA Tournament lock for a one-seed, the Wolfpack are led by first team All-American and projected top five WNBA draft pick Elissa Cunane. The team is shooting 50% from 2-point range, ranks fourth in the country in 3-point percentage and holds opponents to woeful shooting rates on defense.
Head coach Wes Moore is trying to return to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year and is in the midst of his seventh consecutive 20+ win season with the Wolfpack. There’s no place that NC State isn’t a dominant team, and it has held the same consistent level of top-tier college play throughout. Its only loss of more than a possession was the first true game of the season at home when the Wolfpack lost by nine to No. 1 South Carolina.
How Syracuse beats NC State
The Wolfpack aren’t the best team ranking-wise the Orange have played this season, but a road contest against the No. 4 team in the country won’t be easy, especially since SU is 2-5 on the road and is coming off a 49-point loss to the No. 23 team in the country. But the Orange can always have that Ohio State win to point toward, one where they shut down the Buckeyes’ forwards and shot the lights out from across the court.
Another strong shooting performance can happen, although recent games would point to that being highly unlikely. Even though Alaysia Styles holds her own down low, she’s too overmatched and continues to get eaten up by much larger ACC talent in the paint. Recent injuries are evidence that she just can’t take everything that opponents are throwing at her throughout the season.
Player to watch: Elissa Cunane, center, No. 33
The senior is one of the most decorated, talented players in college basketball, dominating on both ends of the court throughout her illustrious career. At 6-foot-5, she’s averaging 7.7 rebounds per game following a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist campaign. She’s also swatted away 23 blocks and stolen 19 balls this season, all while averaging 13.1 points per game on offense.
There’s a reason why she’s a projected top five pick in recent WNBA mock drafts, and her all-around abilities will be on full display against a Syracuse lineup struggling to find ways to defend people down low in any successful capacity.
Stat to know: 19.1, average margin of victory
The Wolfpack have dominated in most of their wins, especially against other top teams in the country. On the other hand, the Orange can quickly allow games to get out of hand for them, especially in the middle two quarters. Be it a lack of depth, tired legs from a long season or the amount of talent wearing out, games this season can go from a one-possession one to a double-digit deficit in a matter of a few possessions.
Luckily for NC State, it’s used to coasting away during the final quarter to a victory. The Orange could be in for another blowout loss at the hands of one of the best teams in the country.
The post Opponent Preview: What to know about No. 4 NC State appeared first on The Daily Orange.