Syracuse aims for upset of No. 10 UNC

If Syracuse wants to upset No. 10 North Carolina and put itself on the “in” side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Orange will have to win the battle of the boards against the Tar Heels in their Atlantic Coast Conference matchup Wednesday at the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse is 0-4 this season when its opponents grab more rebounds. North Carolina’s 11.7 rebounding margin leads the nation.

In last year’s matchup, the Tar Heels thumped the Orange 85-68. Syracuse couldn’t guard North Carolina on the interior and was outrebounded 44-24.

Despite the loss of big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina is still a force on the boards as it ranks No. 2 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and No. 30 in defensive rebounding percentage.

“They’re big. They’ve been big for as long as I can remember,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They get a lot of big guys, they’re very aggressive, they get on the boards, they usually have big guards. But they’re also going to have a couple 6-10 guys every year, a couple 6-8s. They’ve always been physical and aggressive.”

In their 93-76 rout of Louisville on Saturday, the Tar Heels (21-7, 10-5 ACC) outrebounded the Cardinals 44-32. Every time Louisville made a run, North Carolina answered with a 3-pointer or a rebound and putback to stay comfortably ahead.

Led by guard Joel Berry II with 23 points and forward Luke Maye with 19 points and 13 boards, the Tar Heels shot 48 percent and broke 90 points for the third time in their current five-game winning streak.

North Carolina sits in third place in the ACC, behind Virginia (13-1) and Duke (10-4) and ahead of Clemson (9-5).

“All in all, we really played well,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said after the Louisville game. “I didn’t like our defense, but I haven’t liked our defense all year long. Maybe we’ll get it changed before I turn 90. But we made shots and guys made plays.”

After showing initial signs of being a strong rebounding team, the Orange (18-9, 7-7) has regressed in ACC play. Syracuse ranks sixth on the offensive glass and 13th on the defensive glass in conference-only games.

That makes freshman forward Oshae Brissett a key player in Wednesday’s game. Brissett, who shared this week’s ACC Rookie of the Week Award with Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, is averaging 14.7 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds this season.

The only ACC freshman averaging more points is Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, and the only ACC freshmen with more rebounds are Bagley and Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. Brissett is bidding to join Carmelo Anthony as the only freshman in Syracuse history to average a double-double for the season.

“Even if Oshae’s not having a shooting night, he’s always boarding and getting rebounds,” said Orange guard Tyus Battle, who ranks third in the ACC in scoring at 19.9 points per game. “He shows his versatility every time he steps on the floor.”

As in recent years, the Orange find themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble as the season winds down. With games against North Carolina, No. 5 Duke and No. 15 Clemson remaining, Syracuse has an opportunity to notch that one signature win that could vault them into the tournament.

“We have a much better strength of schedule than we had last year. We don’t really have any bad losses and we have more road wins than we had last year,” Boeheim said. “We’ll just keep playing. There’s really, really tough games left. We’ll see what happens.”