Syracuse-North Carolina Preview
North Carolina has overcome a rash of injuries while extending its winning streak, though that lack of depth could become an issue during an upcoming difficult stretch.
With two of the NCAA’s winningest active coaches on the sidelines, Roy Williams and his 13th-ranked Tar Heels can earn their season-high sixth straight win Monday night by dealing Jim Boeheim and visiting Syracuse a third loss in four games.
After learning reserve guard Theo Pinson would be out indefinitely with a broken left foot, North Carolina (16-4, 6-1 ACC) only had seven players log double-digit minutes in Saturday’s 78-74 home win over Florida State.
Point guards Joel Berry II (strained groin), Stilman White (stress fracture) and Luke Davis (broken foot), and forwards Sasha Seymore (ACL) and Joel James (knee) are also hurt.
"During the course of the game, you can’t be concerned with woe is me, you’ve just got to say it’s time for you to do it and to do it the right way," Williams said of his depleted group.
Nate Britt played 14 minutes in the backcourt despite being questionable before tipoff due to a lacerated lip, and Brice Johnson indicated his back was bothering him in warmups.
With perhaps little choice but to play through it, Johnson finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds. The junior forward has become a major force in his last two games, totaling 37 points on 15-of-20 shooting.
"I wish (his back) was bothering him during warmups all the time if he is going to get 18 and 14, but I was worried about him," Williams said after the Tar Heels won for the 10th time in 11 games.
Since averaging 72.0 points on 41.5 percent shooting over a three-game span that included its lone league loss to visiting Notre Dame on Jan. 5, North Carolina has scored 78.5 per game and shot 51.9 percent over its past four.
Marcus Paige, who is playing through plantar fasciitis in his right foot, had 19 points as the only starting guard Saturday. He’s averaging 15.5 points, 5.8 assists and 2.5 steals while making 11 of 21 from 3-point range over his last four games.
The Tar Heels will now have to deal with Syracuse’s zone defense as they begin a challenging stretch that includes showdowns with No. 10 Louisville and No. 2 Virginia.
The Orange (14-6, 5-2), however, have given up an average of 69.0 points and a 35.9 3-point percentage in their last four games after limiting opponents to 53.7 per game on 22.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc over their previous six.
They also went 8 of 19 from the free throw line in a 66-62 home loss to Miami on Saturday, two games after missing 13 of 15 from long range and getting outrebounded 40-30 in a 66-53 loss at Clemson.
"You can’t miss those free throws," Boeheim said Saturday. "We’re not that good. If we miss 11 free throws (against the Tar Heels), we’ll lose."
Boeheim’s squad could have much bigger problems against North Carolina, which allows a league-low 27.7 3-point percentage and ranks second with a plus-9.9 rebounding margin.
The Tar Heels may have to figure out a way to contain Rakeem Christmas, who had 23 points and eight rebounds against the Hurricanes. The senior forward ranks among ACC leaders with 18.3 points and 8.9 boards per game.
Syracuse has won all four meetings since 1975, including a lackluster 57-45 home victory last January in which both teams combined to shoot 36.9 percent from the field and went 6 of 31 from 3-point range.