No. 25 Florida State is back on the road again tonight, as the Seminoles (16-5, 4-4) will suit up in New York state to take on the Syracuse Orange (16-6, 7-2). The game tips off at 8 pm and can be viewed on Raycom. ’Cuse opened as a three-point favorite.
These are two rather evenly matched teams. Both 16-win squads, FSU is presently forecasted as a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament, across the 92 projections surveyed by Bracket Matrix, while Syracuse is an 8-seed. They each feature a top-25 defense, with Syracuse 20th in the country and the ’Noles 23rd.
Of course, these teams get it done quite differently on the defensive end of the floor. The Orange is well known for its 2-3 matchup zone, while FSU rarely deviates from its man-to-man approach.
The zone approach allows ’Cuse to keep an eye on the ball, so it’s not surprising that they’re a top-30 blocked-shots unit, nationally, with 4.81 blocks per game. Always active in passing lanes, Syracuse is also third in the ACC with 7.86 steals per game.
Of course, falling back into zone tends to slow the game, so it’s not surprising that Syracuse is 287th in the country when it comes to tempo, as well as third from the bottom of the conference with 71.3 points per game. Among ACC teams, only Duke comes in below the Orange’s 68.2% free-throw shooting, which is good for the ’Noles, who have been called for the second most fouls in the conference.
Beating a team as reliant on zone defense as Syracuse typically comes down to one thing: making outside shots. As far as threes are concerned, Phil Cofer leads the way, at 44.1%. And while hesitation is not an issue with Cofer, it is with the player whose long-range accuracy is the second best on the team— and that’s Terance Mann, who has actually sunk 16 of 39 attempts (41%).
Tied for third are M.J. Walker and Devin Vassell, at 37%. The ’Noles really need the Walker who went 6-7 on bombs in Miami, not the Walker from pretty much every other game. Vassell is another story. I thought he found the right places on the court against Georgia Tech’s zone, but he was limited to just 3 minutes for the second straight game after logging 20 minutes in a win over Clemson.
The point is that scoring against a team like Syracuse is similar to scoring against a team like Virginia: you can’t make perfect the enemy of the good. Translation: if you pass up a good shot, you’re likely going to spend more time, which plays into the preferred tempo of the Orange, and ultimately come away with a worse look. Facing Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is sort of like playing an option team in football: they practice this thing every day, and have done so for years. Florida State does not devote that sort of time to it, so hesitancy could prove quite costly— the more the Orange is afforded the opportunity to do what it does best, the more the Seminoles’ chances for success decrease.
FSU won the teams’ only meeting last year, a 101-90 double-overtime affair in Tallahassee. The ’Noles have not won at Syracuse since the two teams have been in the ACC; their only win in the Carrier Dome came in the 1997 NIT. Florida State is trying to win consecutive conference road games, a feat it has not accomplished since 2016.
And one more wrinkle, which doesn’t really have anything to do with previewing this game: Syracuse does not have a single vote in the Coaches Poll, even though Jim Boeheim is a voter. That just cracks me up.
As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts about this game, before and during the contest, in the comments section below.