Syracuse-North Carolina Preview (Jan 16, 2017)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A Final Four rematch might not look all that attractive on the surface, but players for No. 9 North Carolina know this is no time to back off.
The Tar Heels picked up a notable victory during the weekend prior to a home matchup with Syracuse on Monday night at the Smith Center.
Coming off a sizzling 96-83 conquest of then-ninth-ranked Florida State puts the Tar Heels in good shape in the Atlantic Coast Conference more than a quarter of the way through the conference schedule.
"The way we played, we hope we can carry it on," North Carolina forward Isaiah Hicks said. "This really shows we're capable of being a great team."
This also could be a memorable game for another reason for the Tar Heels (16-3, 4-1 ACC). Coach Roy Williams makes his first attempt at career coaching victory No. 800.
Syracuse (11-7, 3-2) has struggled at times, but the Orange has won three of its last four games and might be rounding into form just in time.
Syracuse Jim Boeheim said there hasn't been an overhaul in strategy.
"We were doing the same thing we were doing, it just worked," he said. "A couple of small things on offense, a couple of small things on defense. Nothing major."
Tar Heels guard Joel Berry said the Tar Heels should be able to refocus quickly after playing in front of Saturday's sellout crowd.
"We've got to get our legs back," he said.
North Carolina defeated Syracuse three times last year, including twice late in the season by winning on Senior Night and then in the Final Four semifinals in Houston.
Syracuse was a surprise Final Four team, but this season the surprise has gone the other way. Inconsistency has meant the Orange dropped out of the national rankings.
"We probably should have been a little bit more cautious about this team," Boeheim said of the expectations. "It may say 'senior' next to their name or 'grad student' or whatever it says, but they're first-year players for us."
He's referring to graduate transfers Andrew White and John Gillon, who each will be playing at the Smith Center for the first time.
Syracuse has been more successful recently by using a rotation of mostly six or seven players.
"We were a little stable with that," Boeheim said of the lineup. "(Gillon at point guard) really stabilized the offense and we hadn't been very stable. ... We beat (some) good (ACC) teams. We hadn't been able to beat anybody, not (to mention) a good team."
The Tar Heels had eight players log more than 10 minutes against Florida State. Playing at a high level all the time is one of their goals.
"Now it's just 40 minutes. Do it all 40 minutes. We can't have lapses where we start off good and have that lapse, they come back and we pick it back up," Hicks said. "We just have to cut that out."
North Carolina reached the 90-point mark for the 11th time this season, marking the first Florida State opponent to score that much. For the first time in six years, the Tar Heels had three players score 20 or more points in a game with Berry (26 points), Hicks (22) and Justin Jackson (22).
The Tar Heels are aware of some of the pitfalls that can be caused by Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
"They always get steals in that zone," Hicks said.
Syracuse hasn't won any of its five games played outside the Carrier Dome this season, including a 0-3 record in true road games.