It's the first ACC game of the season, which means it's essentially time for a brand new season. Florida State returns home after a rough outing against Purdue, while Syracuse comes into this following a thrilling 2OT win over Indiana. Both teams will be looking to start ACC play off strong with a win.
Syracuse leads the all time series 7-5, but Florida State has won 4 of the last 5, including 3 straight at home. This will also be a chance for FSU to tie the ACC record for most consecutive home wins against conference opponents, having currently won 25 straight.
This game will be at 4 pm EST on ACC Network, live from the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Syracuse Orange (4-3) Breakdown
I'll start by saying this, I don't think Syracuse is very good; in fact, they're horrible defensively. If not for Indiana turning it over 26 times and 3 players fouling out, they walk out of the Carrier Dome with a win. Outside of that, Syracuse's best win is against 2-6 Arizona State, so nothing to write home about, and they've already suffered double digits loss to Auburn, VCU, and... Colgate (at home, nonetheless). VCU is currently 3-4 and sits 93rd in KenPom's rankings, Colgate is also 3-4 and sits 128th. Not exactly great teams.
The Indiana game was just odd, Indiana had 26 turnovers, being the first time all season 'Cuse had forced more than 20 turnovers, and just the second time with more than 13 turnovers forced. They're not that athletic, and use the 2-3 zone this year as more of a handicap than a weapon. Teams are shooting a blistering 37.8% from 3 against them, which is one of the worst marks in college basketball so far. It's just not your typical Jim Boeheim zone that teams fear, teams have been able to carve the zone up, and it's led to one of the 30 worst defensive ratings in the country.
Where they make up for it is on offense, where they've been pretty great. All 5 starters are averaging double digits, they have two players shooting 90% or better from the free throw line, 7 of their 8 rotation guys shoot better than 40% from the floor, and a couple of guys shooting better than 45% from 3 (neither of whom are Buddy Boeheim). They can fill the bucket up with the best of them. Where they've struggled is against teams with athleticism, like Auburn and VCU, scoring less than 70 in both of those games.
Buddy Boeheim was my vote for ACC Preseason Player of the Year after he lit up the NCAA tournament. While he's been really good this year, he could still be better. He's only shooting about 30% from 3 on 7 attempts per game, but that doesn't mean you can give him any kind of space, Buddy is one of those guys you have to cover as soon as he steps across half court.
You also can't let him get to his right hand. Watch him in OT against Indiana, it's all they did.
Two straight possessions where he gets to his right hand and finds a way to finish. Florida State is going to have to force him left and into help when he isolates on the right side of the floor by himself.
Joe Girard is often hot and cold, but he's shooting really well to start the season. The thing with him has always been turnovers. He's able to get his shot off against anyone despite being 6'1", as evidenced by his 12 3-point attempts when he played against FSU in 2020 and his 53% from 3 to start the season. Just get in his space when he has the ball, and really go at him on defense.
Jimmy Boeheim comes in from Cornell to join in on the family affair, and has arguably been the most efficient wing for this team. He has one really bad game out of every ten, it's been this way dating back a few seasons. Against Auburn, he had just 3 points on 1/5 shooting. He can be taken out of the game, FSU just has to be aggressive against him.
Their bigs are unspectacular defensively, though Jesse Edwards is posting an impressive 81.8% from the floor to start. Frank Anselem hasn't given them much that's positive. In the 2-3 zone, their centers have to be great shot blockers. Edwards has been, Anselem hasn't.
Cole Swider comes over from Villanova where he underwhelmed, and is off to the best start of his career, but hasn't really been hitting his 3s so far despite being a career 35% 3-point shooter. He's almost been the exact opposite player that he was at Villanova: rebounding well to start, was a poor rebounder at 'Nova; was a plus defender at 'Nova, is now posting a negative defensive rating. It's a weird spot for him.
I think for this team to take that next step, Benny Williams is going to have to round into shape fast, he's just been really bad offensively. He's the most athletic person on this team, and I think he's going to have to play a lot as they get into ACC play. He and Symir Torrence are just depth at this point, Syracuse has never been a really deep team.
Team Stats PPG, RPG (ORBs/DRBs), APG, SPG, BPG, ToPG, FPG FG%/FT%/3PT%
Stats For: 83.4, 36.0 (9.7/26.3), 15.3, 9.3, 3.6, 12.0, 14.4 47.0/38.1/78.8
Stats Against: 81.9, 36.9 (11.6/25.3), 20.6, 7.0, 3.6, 13.7, 17.4 45.2/37.8/73.4
#35 Buddy Boeheim 21.0, 3.6 (0.9/2.7), 3.9, 2.3, 0.0, 1.9, 1.6 40.9/30.2/90.2
#11 Joseph Girard 15.0, 3.1 (0.4/2.7), 4.7, 1.1, 0.0, 3.4, 0.7 47.1/53.5/90.0
#0 Jimmy Boeheim 14.3, 6.4 (1.7/4.7), 1.1, 1.1, 0.1, 1.4, 1.4 48.1/45.5/69.6
#21 Cole Swider 12.7, 6.4 (1.3/5.1), 1.1, 1.9, 0.1, 1.4, 3.1 40.0/27.8/90.5
#14 Jesse Edwards 12.6, 5.3 (2.0/3.3), 0.9, 0.9, 2.7, 0.6, 3.7 81.8/NA/72.7
#5 Frank Anselem 2.7, 2.7 (1.0/1.7), 0.4, 0.4, 0.0, 0.3, 1.7 55.6/NA/75.0
#10 Symir Torrence 2.1, 1.6 (0.3/1.3), 2.4, 0.4, 0.0, 1.3, 0.9 30.0/50.0/40.0
#13 Benny Williams 2.1, 1.4 (0.1/1.3), 0.3, 1.1, 0.6, 1.3, 1.3 41.2/0.0/20.0
Florida State Seminoles (5-2) Breakdown
I don't think anyone should be worried about this team based on the Purdue game. Purdue is the best team in the country, no question in my mind. If they shoot like that for the rest of the season, no one is beating Purdue. I think it was important for the freshmen and new guys to get experience in that environment and see the type of team they can be if they mature and gain more camaraderie. They'll get there. If they're still playing this way at the end of January, then we can start worrying.
The first thing they have to do is start hitting their open shots. FSU's been able to consistently generate open looks and favorable matchups, just haven't been able to cash in those opportunities. So far this season, they're only shooting about 34.8% on spot-up chances, which is in the bottom 25% nationally. This team has too much shooting talent to be that far down in the percentages. For reference, they finished last season shooting 41.4% on spot-up chances, and that was top-10% nationally. Guys like Wyatt Wilkes and Anthony Polite have really struggled to start the season, with Wilkes being 5/17 from 3 to start and Polite being 8/26. That's simply not good enough.
Part of it is increased attention to those two. Wilkes is only known as a shooter, so defenses are pressed up on him, not allowing him any space. Teams also know that Polite is the most experienced guard on the roster and may give a little extra help that he's not used to. It will all balance out, but these guys have to start hitting shots.
This team is also just scared to get to the free throw line. We saw it from Matthew Cleveland in his missed layup in transition of him shying away from contact as to try and not get fouled instead of driving directly into the defender and trying to get the bucket AND a free throw. They only shot 6 total free throws against Purdue. Six. Can't happen against good teams. Their current splits of 66.4% from the line may be in their head, but again, there's too much shooting talent on this team for that to continue.
I also can't be the only one concerned that Harrison Prieto is playing over athletic 7-footers (this isn't meant as a diss to Harry <3), but I think it shows the lack of trust the staff has in the back end big men depth. Prieto has honestly played pretty well, as well as you can expect for someone who has spent his whole career as a walk-on, as shown by his two defensive player of the games. He's able to stretch it out to 3 and he knows where he's supposed to be, something Quincy Ballard and Naheem McLeod (when healthy) haven't shown they can do. They often look lost on defense. Once this team gets to ACC play and is having to play against Mark Williams, Armando Bacot, Keve Aluma... they're going to have to figure out the big situation quickly.
The last thing I want to note on is the freshmen in general. They're making their typical freshman mistakes, but they're gaining experience and that's huge. Jalen Warley looked as comfortable as ever against Purdue, and the fact that he kept attacking the rim when it wasn't always falling is huge, honestly. We haven't seen him attack the basket like that all season. John Butler is turning it over too much, but part of it is just him needing to understand where he is on the floor and how to position himself. That will come with time. I was surprised by how timid Matt Cleveland was against Purdue with him coming off of the game winner against Boston, you'd expect him to be beaming with confidence. I think he's due for a big bounce back.
RayQuan Evans has missed the last two games following the loss of his brother.
Tanor Ngom is out for Florida State for 2-3 weeks as he recovers from a lower body injury.
Naheem McLeod is working back from a sprained ankle he suffered before the Boston U game.
Bourama Sibide is expected to be out this game for Syracuse.
G: Jalen Warley
G: Caleb Mills
G: Anthony Polite
F: John Butler
F: Malik Osborne
G: Joseph Girard
G: Buddy Boeheim
G: Jimmy Boeheim
F: Cole Swider
F: Jesse Edwards
Keys to the Game
Buddy Boeheim is one of the better players in the ACC, and is averaging 21 PPG to start the season. Couple that with Jimmy Boeheim transferring over from Cornell and averaging 14.3 PPG to start and you have a couple of talented scorers that can give FSU some fits if they're not aware of who they're guarding.
Ideally, FSU's switching everything is going to cause Syracuse some issues just because of how athletic Florida State is, but it may not always be the case. You just can't let Buddy get to his right with no help side defense because he will find a way to finish.
Hitting Open Shots
Florida State has been able to generate open looks all season, they just haven't been able to hit them. Against a 2-3 zone that is struggling to defend so far, more open looks will be generated. The question is, will Florida State capitalize? They're only shooting about 34.8% on spot-up shots this year, and some guys have to get going. Specially, Anthony Polite has to get going. This team can't afford to go much more of the season where his production is.
Rim is Always Open
One thing against 2-3 zones, you can get them to shift and then throw the ball immediately at the rim to get a lob. Look for bigs like Malik Osborne and John Butler to get a couple of lob chances, and maybe even some wings like Matthew Cleveland and Cam'Ron Fletcher. Florida State has a great zone ATO (after timeout play) to screen off an entire side of the floor and get an open lob. I bet we see it at least once against the Orange.
Florida State opens as 8.5-point favorites, with an over/under of 151.
I'm expecting a big bounce back from Florida State. Every game Syracuse has lost this season has been by 10+ points. That should continue as FSU gets their ACC record-tying 26th straight ACC home win.
FSU 83-Syracuse 72