Shorthanded Orange Face Louisville Without Southerland
SU’s biggest game of the season to date comes Saturday afternoon at the Yum! Center in Louisville with the Orange squaring off against the top-ranked Cardinals. As you probably know by now, James Southerland will be out again for the Orange as his academics continue to be under investigation. Coming into the season, if you had told me James Southerland wouldn’t be able to play against the Cardinals, I would have said that it wouldn’t be a huge deal, though it certainly would put the Orange in a bind, as Louisville wasn’t expected to field an offense to match its lockdown defense. It’s a much different story now. Not only does Louisville’s defense remain a steel trap, but its offensive efficiency is ranked 14th in the country. While Southerland has been streaky, he was enough of a threat all season that opponents needed to respect his scoring potential as well as his ability to stretch defenses to the point where lanes were more easily accessible. Trevor Cooney and Brandon Triche can hit threes, but like Southerland, they haven’t done so consistently, and there doesn’t appear to be a single person who can pick up the slack by himself. It’ll have to be by committee.
Jerami Grant filled in tremendously against Villanova. He was able to slash, grab rebounds and even shoot a little bit. Unfortunately, Louisville couldn’t be much worse a matchup for SU’s freshman. The Cardinals’ interior defense is ranked so highly because it forces other teams into bad shots, whether it’s the angle, the spot on the floor or the threat of the shots being blocked. I’m still very high on Grant and last week’s game should keep him confident, but it would be very surprising to me to see him put two digits in the scoring column and be the difference.
If the Orange are to overcome Southerland’s absence, they’ll likely have to do it from the perimeter, and it will probably have to be a threat by committee with Triche, Carter-Williams and Cooney hitting enough from distance to force Louisville to hedge out, making the paint more vulnerable. The backcourt will also have to get it done on defense. Luckily, that doesn’t figure to be quite as tall a task, as the Cardinals are shooting just 32.6% from distance on the season, though they’ve been a shade better since conference play started.
It almost goes without saying, but SU also needs to win the turnover battle, but I actually like the Orange’s chances in that department even though the Cardinals force more turnovers than every team in the country but VCU. See, in conference play, the Orange have turned the ball over just 15% of the time, a rate that is second only to Notre Dame, whereas Louisville has turned the ball over 17.6% of the time, a rate which is worse than Pittsburgh, Marquette, and yes, even DePaul when solely factoring in conference play. Also, and this will sound cynical, but the pace of the game and Louisville’s frontcourt talent level will likely render DaJuan Coleman irrelevant. In fact, it’s a good bet that the first power dribble from the freshman big man will elicit a quick hook from Jim Boeheim.
G Russ Smith – 23 points on 10-20 shooting against UConn Monday
F Chane Behanan – 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, two steals against UConn
G Peyton Siva – Averaging 14 points over his last two games while shooting 12-18
C Gorgui Dieng – Averaging 14 rebounds over his last four games
No one. They’re the #1 team in the country for a reason.
There’s little doubting the fact that James Southerland’s absence gives Syracuse perhaps the thinnest margin for error they’ll have all season. They’re going on the road against arguably the best team in the country and while they’ve had a week to adjust in practice, SU has played just one game without him. However, it’s not the nightmare scenario that some are making it out to be, and Louisville does have a few blemishes that I think the ‘Cuse can exploit. Whether it will be enough is something we won’t learn until Saturday.