SU Faces Fast-Paced Arkansas In Tough Road Contest
Four games into the season, the Orange have thrived behind the emergence of Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland, but the team has also been successful due to its ability to dictate tempo against each of its opponents to date. That may change when SU takes on Arkansas and its pressure defense tonight in Fayetteville (no, not that Fayetteville…). Razorbacks head coach Mike Anderson, a disciple of Nolan Richardson, has adopted Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” mantra at all three of his head coaching stops – UAB, Missouri and now Arkansas. When it works, it’s incredibly effective at generating turnovers on pressure defense and traps in the backcourt, leading to easy baskets at the other end. When it doesn’t, though, it puts a lot of pressure on the team’s personnel to generate offense in more traditional sets.
That’s been the story for the Razorbacks this season. Their three wins have come against teams that just couldn’t find the open man in time, but its two losses, while respectable, have come against squads that did a better job of breaking Arkansas’ press and were subsequently able to get good looks at the basket. The Razorbacks’ defensive style may be distinct, but that doesn’t mean it’s always effective.
While Syracuse hasn’t played at nearly as high a tempo in any of its games this season, its transition offense has been superb. The team’s height, athleticism and Carter-Williams’ savvy court awareness will give the Orange a very solid chance of cracking Arkansas’ press, though it will also have to contend with a raucous road crowd. SU’s chances to win rely heavily on taking care of the ball and forcing Arkansas into using halfcourt sets and not turnovers to generate points, and ‘Cuse definitely has those capabilities.
On a personnel level, Arkansas has a lot of talent. The battle in the backcourt between two potential first round picks in MCW and B.J. Young should be very exciting. Carter-Williams and Young are very similar physically and are equally important to their teams: Arkansas depends on Young to score while the Orange counts on MCW to run the offense and distribute.
Young gets a ton of attention for his pro potential and his absurdly high level of involvement in Arkansas’ offense (he takes 37.8% of the Razorbacks’ shots when he’s on the floor), but there are good players at the other positions as well. Mardracus Wade is an excellent three-point shooter, but Anderson probably wishes he would be less gunshy, as he’s attempted just ten threes on the year. Transfer Cody Clarke and Marshawn Powell, a 240-pound forward who was injured for all but two games last season, do a good job of snagging the rebounds that initiate Arkansas’ offense when it isn’t forcing turnovers.
Physically, though, Syracuse has all the personnel they need to match up against Arkansas’ style. Aside from Arkansas’ tempo, one thing to keep in mind will be how much the Orange will respect the Razorbacks’ shooters. Arkansas hasn’t been very successful as team from distance, hitting only about 30% of their threes, but Young, Wade and a few of the team’s complementary players have the potential to get hot if SU doesn’t close out.
Despite what should be a very hostile environment and a frenzied style, I like the Orange’s chances tonight due to their advantages in length and Michael Carter-Williams’ recent display of poise and vision, though like any road contest, there may be some early jitters.