3 ways Syracuse can avoid an upset: No. 17 Wichita State enters the Dome as one of the hottest teams in the nation
Wichita State’s already carried its Sweet 16 success last year into victories over then-No. 6 Louisiana State and George Mason, both Final Four teams in March.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim sees the NCAA basketball landscape tightening so much that a victory over any team shouldn’t surprise anybody.
An SU loss to the 17th-ranked Shockers at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Carrier Dome would be even less shocking as ‘mid-majors’ have been shedding that label.
‘It doesn’t matter who you play, they can beat you,’ Boeheim said. ‘College basketball is very, very difficult. You have to be ready to play. You’ve got to bring your best game every night.’
If you still want to call it an upset, or simply a loss, No. 15 Syracuse (7-0) must do three things to avoid one from Wichita State (5-0).
1. Play with urgency
SU guard Eric Devendorf said last week he and his teammates thought they could come off the court with a win even with lacking urgency.
Orange forward Demetris Nichols acknowledged SU’s next two games against undefeated Wichita State and Oklahoma State could help Syracuse shed that complacency.
‘Those are the kind of games we need,’ said Boeheim. ‘We played some tough games already. But that will certainly be a great challenge for us. Hopefully we’ll be ready for that.’
Syracuse displayed encouraging signs of a better start Monday. It perfected its man-to-man defense by forcing 14 turnovers and limiting Holy Cross to 30.8 percent shooting in the first half. The Orange held as much as an 18-point lead. Although the lead shrunk, the strong start allowed SU not to have to play catch up.
LSU experienced something similar as it held an 11-point advantage before the Shockers went on a 16-5 run to close the first half.
‘We’re going to have to come here and play with a sense of urgency that they can beat us,’ SU guard Josh Wright said. ‘We’re going to have to play our game. When we play our game I don’t think anyone can beat us.’
2. Use height advantage
Wichita State normally starts a small lineup with forward Kyle Wilson as the only big man at 6-foot-8-inches. All the other starters are listed 6-foot-5-inches or shorter.
SU center Darryl Watkins and forwards Terrence Roberts, Demetris Nichols and Paul Harris should take advantage of that height disparity.
All four have helped in the rebounding effort this year but inconsistently. Harris recorded 11 and 12 rebounds against St. Francis (N.Y.) and Northeastern, respectively. Roberts grabbed 13 boards in each of those two games.
Harris has mainly contributed with cleaning the glass while still developing as a scoring threat.
‘(SU assistant coach) Mike Hopkins keeps telling me that’s my game,’ Harris said. ‘I want to go in there, rebound and go with it. It takes heart. It’s not even skill. You just have to have a lot of heart.’
Roberts only made four rebounds against Charlotte and Holy Cross. Watkins, who returned Monday from a nose injury, had seven and eight rebounds against Holy Cross and Texas El-Paso, respectively. But he has not cracked double digits.
Nichols had only two impressive rebounding efforts with eight and seven rebounds against Charlotte and Canisius, respectively.
‘We should out rebound any team who plays small like that,’ Boeheim said. ‘They are going to handle the ball better (and) shoot better.’
3. Avoid foul trouble
Boeheim argued foul trouble from Roberts and Nichols served as a reason why SU allowed Holy Cross to come back in the second half.
He also argued fatigue might’ve factored in since the Orange played a game two days earlier. Now with four days of rest between games, that shouldn’t be an issue. But foul trouble sure can.
Nichols and Roberts sat out within the first seven minutes of the second half after each picked up their fourth fouls. That allowed Holy Cross to come back within striking distance as SU lacked two key defenders.
‘We started playing the same way in the second half but whistles started blowing,’ Boeheim said. ‘So we have to be able to adjust to that. We got in huge foul trouble. That was the difference in the half.’
The Orange recorded 21 fouls. Wichita State’s 68 percent free-throw shooting isn’t impressive but it did go 7-of-8 from the charity stripe against LSU. In a game that could be decided in single digits, either case with free-throws and lost possessions from offensive fouls could make the difference.
Syracuse must start becoming better used to the increased hand-check fouls and palming calls.
‘We haven’t played as well as we could play,’ Wright said. ‘Not nearly. There’s a lot of things we didn’t display (Monday) or any other night. The mistakes we made are good for us. We just have to learn from it.’
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