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Louisville vs. Syracuse preview: Cardinals search for consistency in ACC showdown

The race for a top 4 seed in the ACC tournament continues Wednesday night inside the Carrier Dome.

No. 18 Louisville Cardinals (18-8, 9-4) At Syracuse Orange (17-8, 8-4)

Game Time: 7:01 p.m.

Location: Carrier Dome: Syracuse, N.Y.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Mike Couzens (play-by-play) and Jordan Cornette (analyst)

Officials: Roger Ayers, Bert Smith, A.J. Desai

Favorite: Syracuse by 2

Series: Louisville leads, 18-9

Last Meeting: Syracuse won 78-73 on Feb. 8, 2018 in Louisville

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:


Relevant Videos:

About Syracuse:

One of the bigger enigmas in both the ACC and all of college basketball, Syracuse enters Wednesday night one win behind Louisville in league play and tied with the Cardinals in the loss column. The Orange are coming off almost a week’s worth of rest, with their most recent outing being a disappointing 73-58 loss at NC State last Wednesday.

Syracuse has been the antithesis of Louisville during league play in that, win or lose, their results have typically been one-sided. Whereas the Cardinals have played three straight games that have either been decided either in overtime or by 2 points or less, eight of Syracuse’s 12 ACC games have been decided by double figures, and none by fewer than 4 points.

The general makeup of this Syracuse team is more or less the same as it always is under head coach Jim Boeheim. They play zone, they have some great lengthy defenders, they have a really good scoring guard, and you’re more than likely going to have to shoot it well from the outside to beat them.

Tyus Battle, whose decision last spring to put the NBA Draft on hold surprised just about everyone, is one of the most explosive scorers in the ACC. Battle has scored 20 or more points 12 times this season, including a 32-point performance in the Orange’s signature win at Duke on Jan. 14. He’s averaging 17.4 ppg for the season, but has made just one three-pointer over Syracuse’s last four games. Battle scored a game-high 25 points in the win over Louisville last season.

There are plenty of Syracuse fans who will tell you — with or without asking — that even though Battle puts up the biggest numbers, it’s actually sophomore forward Oshae Brissett who is the team’s most important player. Averaging 13.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season, Brissett has been a mild disappointment for most of 2018-19, but has hit his stride in recent weeks by placing more of an emphasis on playing inside the arc. He had posted three straight double-doubles before being held to two points on 1-of-9 shooting in last week’s loss to NC State.

East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes is Syracuse’s second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg) and perhaps its most dangerous defender. The 6’6 forward has posted at least one steal and/or block in 10 consecutive games heading into Wednesday night. He has, however, been struggling on offense. Over the first 19 games of 2018-19, Hughes averaged 15.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc. In Syracuse’s last six games, those averages have dipped to 8.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, with a 26 percent mark from three. Hughes can also be turnover prone. When he puts his head down and makes up his mind to attack the basket, he has a tendency to be very loose with the ball. Louisville gets fewer steals than any team in the ACC, but this is still a flaw they should look to exploit.

Frank Howard and Buddy Boeheim (Jim’s kid) are the other players to keep an eye on when Louisville is on defense. Howard’s numbers are way down across the board from a season ago, but he’s coming off a season-high 21-point performance in the loss to NC State. He dropped 22 against the Cards at the Yum Center last season.

Boeheim is a super streaky outside shooter who seems to lose confidence quickly if he doesn’t see the ball go in the basket early. His three-point shooting numbers over Syracuse’s last 10 games are consistently inconsistent:

If Boeheim hits the first one, then you’d better know where he is on the floor at all times moving forward. If he misses his first couple, things have a tendency of snowballing.

Defensive, Syracuse is the No. 1 team in the country in block percentage, and No. 15 in steal percentage. They are the ninth-best team in America when it comes to forcing their opponents in turnovers, a dangerous statistic for a Louisville team that has had a real problem taking care of the ball in recent weeks.

With the exception of the Duke game, Syracuse has won with defense all season long. The game against the Blue Devils (a 95-91 final in OT) is the only Orange victory where their opponents have scored more than 71 points.

As always, Syracuse dares opponents to beat them with the outside shot. A whopping 48.1 percent of the points that have been scored against the Orange have come from beyond the arc, the seventh-highest percentage of any team in Division-I. Louisville needs to find an effective presence to throw the ball to in the middle of that zone, sure, but they also need their best shooters to capitalize when the zone collapses on that presence and gives up open looks from the wings.

STRENGTHS: Forcing turnovers, field goal percentage defense, blocking shots, creating steals, points off turnovers, getting to the free-throw line, streaky outside shooting.

WEAKNESSES: Consistent outside shooting, consistency in general, rebounding, free-throw shooting, interior scoring.


—Louisville is 4-2 in ACC road games so far this season, with three of those four victories coming by 21 points or more. Both of their league losses away from home came in overtime.

—Despite losing last season, Louisville has won five of its last seven meetings with Syracuse, and has been victorious in four of its last six games against the Orange inside the Carrier Dome.

—Syracuse is 1-3 this season against teams ranked in the current AP top 25 poll.

—Jordan Nwora is the second-most improved scorer in the nation with his 17.5 scoring average (fifth in the ACC) up 10.8 ppg from his 5.7 average last year.

—Louisville is 14-12 all-time in games played on Feb. 20, winning its last three on that date.

—Syracuse ranks 20th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.397), 21st in blocked shots per game (4.9), 24th in scoring defense (64.3) and 21st in turnover margin (+3.6).

—Four of Syracuse’s next six games are against teams currently ranked in the AP top 25. The Orange host top-ranked Duke on Saturday.

—This will be Chris Mack’s first game as a head coach against Syracuse.

—Christen Cunningham leads the ACC in assists during conference play (6.7 apg).

—Louisville is 4-5 all-time in games against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

—Louisville’s 9-4 record in ACC games matches its best 13-game start in its five seasons as a member of the ACC. The Cards have started 9-4 on two other occasions.

—Louisville has won 148 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 16 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 67, Syracuse 65