Wednesday’s 7 p.m. matchup between Boston College (7-8, 0-2 Atlantic Coast) and Syracuse (10-7, 0-4) features two men’s basketball teams still frantically searching for their first ACC win. But today, for one of these teams, something has to give. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is still looking for his first victory after serving a nine-game NCAA-mandated suspension at the start of the year, and is taking another crack at it tonight against the Eagles in the Carrier Dome. The Orange, however, have gone 0-2 since his return, dropping games against Clemson University and No. 6 University of North Carolina.
BC, on the other hand, is coming off an 82-54 thumping from Notre Dame, a game in which the Eagles’ poor shooting and inability to defend from beyond the arc led to an ugly contest. Nevertheless, Boeheim may have a cautious confidence against the Eagles, a team he has dominated since the days of the Big East. Although BC has had some major upsets in the rivalry—most recently, Steve Donahue’s signature win, 62-59, against the then-No.1 and undefeated Orange during the 2013-14 campaign—Syracuse leads the all-time series 43 to 24.
Last time they played: Last season, Syracuse took care of business against the Eagles. The first bout came Jan. 20, 2015 and resulted in an eight-point victory for the Orange at the Carrier Dome. BC jumped out to a 12-4 lead early behind the 3-point shooting of Aaron Brown, who led all scorers with 21 points, but ’Cuse stormed back on a 31-5 run to close out the first half to take a 35-17 lead into the locker room. BC pushed back in the second half, cutting the lead to six with less than a minute to play—but it wasn’t enough, as Syracuse secured a 69-61 victory behind the 17-point, eight-rebound performance of Michael Gbinije.
In the year’s second matchup, this time in Chestnut Hill, Gbinije shined yet again, dropping 21 points as ’Cuse coasted to a 70-56 victory. A four-point game at the break, the two teams traded buckets for the majority of the second half before Syracuse went on a 13-2 run to put the game away, spoiling Brown’s strong 19-point performance.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Star player production: The narrative this year has been much the same for these two squads: if the upperclassmen guard leading the team with 17 points per game plays well, the team wins. If he doesn’t, the team loses. Both Boeheim and BC head coach Jim Christian continue to have faith in their main guys, Gbinije and Eli Carter, respectively, and continue to give them big minutes despite lackluster shooting numbers in ACC play. Gbinije saw his points per game average dip from 18 in out-of-conference play to 14 in conference. Carter put up a decent game in BC’s loss to Duke, but shot under 30 percent against Notre Dame. Both of these guys will be looking to get back to their old ways.
- Defending the Three: The Eagles have been torched from behind the arc in ACC play, as the Irish and the Blue Devils zipped the ball around the perimeter faster than the Eagles’ zone defense could get out to shooters. Notre Dame connected on 11-of-17 from downtown just a few days after Duke hit eight of its own. This year’s Syracuse team is lacking size and has made its living behind the arc, with three guys—Gbinije, senior guard Trevor Cooney, and freshman guard Michael Richardson—more than capable of getting hot and lighting up the scoreboard from downtown. Expect Christian to have his guys play a little more aggressively, getting out onethe wing to defend the 3-pointer, leaving big man Dennis Clifford to…
- Control the Paint: The Eagles’ senior 7-footer has been playing some great ball and providing much-needed leadership for this youthful BC squad. Most recently against Notre Dame, Clifford put up 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting and collected five boards along the way, all locking down Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste for much of the game. With Syracuse’s biggest body measuring only 6-foot-9, look for BC to get the ball to Clifford so the big man can do what a big man should: dominate.
Featured Image by Gerry Broome / AP Photo