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Game Preview: Syracuse at no. 21 Rutgers

How to watch, stats, keys to victory, Steve Pikiell’s thoughts and much more.

Syracuse Orangemen v Rutgers Scarlet Knights Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Syracuse (3-0) at No. 21 Rutgers (3-0)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey

Tip-off: Tuesday, December 8 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

TV: ESPN2 - Mike Couzens & Jon Crispin

Stream: ESPN App

Radio: Live Listen - Rutgers Sports Properties Radio Network - (WCTC 1450 AM/ WOR 710 AM/ Sirius 134 / XM 196, Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Chris Tsakonas & Brant Wolff

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers 32nd, which is three spots worse since Hofstra win; Syracuse 40th, which is the same since win over Rider.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.0 (61st) Defense 87.7 (12th); Syracuse - Offense 107.1 (47th) Defense 89.8 (32nd)

KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 72 Syracuse 69; Rutgers is given a 61% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Rutgers -4

ACC/Big Ten Challenge history: Rutgers is 2-4 all-time and lost last season at Pitt.

Series History: Syracuse leads 39-9 and has won the past 13 meetings. The last time Rutgers was victorious in this series was against the eventual national champions in 2003 behind a 31 point performance from Jerome Coleman and a three-pointer off the glass to win it from Herve Lamizana.

Syracuse SB Nation Site: Nunes Magician

Q&A with Nunes Magician

Key Contributors

Syracuse - 6’5” junior Alan Griffin (16.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 45.5% 3-pt FG); 6’7” sophomore Quincy Guierrer (16.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 69.0% FG); 6’1” sophomore Joe Girard III (11.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals); 6’10” senior Marek Dolezaj (10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.3 blocks, 50.0% FG); 6’8” freshman Woody Newton (9.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 block, 60.0% FG); 6’5” freshman Kadary Richmond (9.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 56.3% FG)

Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (21.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 57.8% FG, 37.5% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (15.3 points, 5.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 42.9% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 51.3% FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (8.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 83.3% FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (7.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, 1.7 assists, 64.3% FG); 6’6” sophmore Paul Mulcahy (6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 53.3% FG); 6’7” Mawot Mag (4.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 55.6% FG)

Injury Update: Geo Baker is unlikely to play tonight and to read more about head coach Steve Pikiell’s update on his status, click here.

About Syracuse

Jim Boeheim brings a shorthanded team to the RAC as they are expected to be without his son Buddy, who is the top returning scorer from last season and under quarantine due to close contact with someone in the program who tested positive for COVID-19. They are also without starting center Bourama Sidibe, last season’s leading rebounder and shot blocker, who is injured and had surgery last week.

Syracuse is off to a 3-0 start and Tuesday’s game at Rutgers will be the team’s third in the past six days. They are led by Illinois transfer and wing Alan Griffin, as well as big man Quincy Guierrer. The Orange rely heavily on three-point shooting on the offensive end and are making 34.5% on 29 shot attempts per game. They are also excellent from the free throw line and averaging 75.4% on 65 attempts this season. Syracuse shares the basketball well, as they average 20.7 assists per game and assist on 70.6 of all made field goals, which is the 12th best rate in college basketball. Big man Marek Dolezaj actually leads the team in assists and is an excellent passer.

The Orange are an athletic team that continue to employ a 2-3 zone under Boeheim and have struggled with it at times in non-conference play. They rely on length of their defenders to close out gaps and force opponents to settle for contested three-pointers. Opponents are shooting just 26% from behind the arc so far this season. The zone does make them vulnerable on the glass.

Steve Pikiell Pregame Quotes

On Syracuse:

“We’re 0-13 against them in the last 13 games. Great program, Hall of Fame coach, really terrific shooting the basketball. We know a lot about (Illinois transfer Alan) Griffin. He’s a really really good player and he is started off the season playing great. (Joseph) Girard III is really good too. They have a lot of good players Hall of Fame coach. Their defense is nationally renowned — 2-3 free zone. Obviously is huge test for us and it is a program that I have a ton of respect for back from my UConn days. I know a lot about Syracuse and respect that program a great deal. So, a lot of different things will be tested tomorrow, our resolve on the back boards, our ability to defend the 3-point land, our patients on offense, a lot of different things will be tested. I thought we had a good week of practice and we got some rest too that we needed and I’m hoping that we can play some good basketball tomorrow night.”

On 9 day layoff:

“No, I’m not. We actually breaks like this during the season. I mean we needed one after those three games. That was it was a very difficult stretch. We had 10 straight practices. I like the fact that we were able to implement some new stuff and get better and try some different lineups, so I’m excited about that. I think we’re gonna have breaks this year at different times. Hopefully we keep staying COVID free. We’re one of the rare teams in the country that haven’t been paused at all. Knock on wood with that. I told our guys, the great part is we could get better and hopefully we’ve used this time to get better.”

On non-conference schedule:

“I mean every day we’re talking to people. We were close I thought last week to play a Top 10 team and then the dates just didn’t work out and our testing protocol is tough. But, we got the fourth toughest schedule in the country right now and, we’ll continue to field questions and you know people are on pause and call up and see if they’e willing to schedule games and stuff. We’ll probably schedule a couple more games in the non-conference at some point in time, but as of today, I don’t have any updates for you on that.”

Development of the freshmen:

“(The freshmen) were exhausted. I had them all in. College basketball is very different — the demands. The silver lining for the freshmen was they probably got more minutes than they normally would because of injuries. They learned a lot. They learned game speed, game physical-ness, and game pressure.”

Keys to Victory

Attack the Zone

Paul Mulcahy and Jacob Young are key to dismantling Syracuse in the halfcourt. Mulcahy has shown his ability to shred zone defenses with his vision and passing ability. Young’s quickness and ability to penetrate should create problems for the Orange defensively. Both players should be able to create good shot opportunities for both themselves and their teammates. They are the key to Rutgers avoiding settling for too many three-pointers, contested or not. Ball movement is key as well in making Syracuse work hard in the halfcourt on the defensive end in hopes of wearing down a six man rotation throughout the game. That leads to the next key....

Run, Rutgers, Run

The Scarlet Knights are more athletic and deeper with multiple players that can get up and down the court quickly like Young, Montez Mathis, and Mawot Mag. The more Rutgers can exploit their athleticism on the perimeter by getting out in transition and not allowing Syracuse to set up their zone, the better off they’ll be. Finishing near the rim is obviously key as well. There should be some concern that Rutgers might be a little rusty shooting wise after the nine day layoff, so getting to the rim early and establishing offensive rhythm is very important.

Dominate the Glass

This is a game that the “all hands on deck” approach to rebounding should pay big dividends for Rutgers. The Orange have a tendency to go for the ball instead of getting a body on someone, which is not good fundamental wise in regard to rebounding. That should be a recipe for disaster for the visitors and Rutgers needs to exploit it by attacking the glass. Myles Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi should own the paint from a rebounding perspective, as well as profit with second chance scoring opportunities off of offensive rebounds. The Scarlet Knights really need to impose their will in this area of the game and also can’t afford to allow Syracuse to kick things out to the perimeter for open looks off of offensive rebounds.

Defensive Intensity

Rutgers has been fine defensively so far but has lacked the sharpness and intensity that defined them last season. As much as been made about preparing for the Syracuse zone with their week off, I’m sure they also worked a lot on defending the three-point line against the Orange. They will shoot early and often from behind the arc. Closing out on shooters and not allowing open looks off of ball reversals is a major key. How Syracuse shoots from three in its first ten or so attempts could dictate the outcome and flow of the game. Rutgers needs to bring it defensively from the opening tip on. They need to bring a lot of energy despite not having fans, but also play within themselves and not be overly aggressive by fouling too much, especially on jump shots.

Free Throw Shooting Margin

Highlighting fouls more so, Rutgers can’t afford to get in foul trouble for multiple reasons. Keeping Johnson and Omoruyi on the floor is essential to holding an edge inside against Syracuse. The Orange are also an excellent free throw shooting team, so if they get a lot more attempts it will put Rutgers in a hole they won’t be able to make up as they aren’t nearly as accurate from the charity stripe. If Syracuse holds a big edge from three-point range and the foul line, it’s going to be a lot more challenging for Rutgers to win by scoring the majority of it’s points from two-point range. They can’t control how the Orange shoot from the free throw line, so making sure they don’t get their too often is key.

Appropriate Music Selection

In a sense, the season truly begins tonight. After taking care of business in the opening week of the season against three inferior opponents, Rutgers faces its first high major opponent of the season against Syracuse. Neither team is full strength, but it’s a big game for both. As of now, its the last non-conference game scheduled for Rutgers and the only one against a quality opponent outside of Big Ten play. The pressure to win this game is greater than in a normal season due to limited opportunities. It’s also important for Rutgers to build confidence ahead of league play beginning next week.

With all that being said, I chose “Do I Wanna Know” by the Arctic Monkeys for this game. The song begins with these lyrics:

“Have you got color in your cheeks? Do you ever get that fear that you can’t shift the type. That sticks around like summat in your teeth? Are there some aces up your sleeve? Have you no idea that you’re in deep? I’ve dreamt about you nearly every night this week.”

It’s finally time for fans to watch this team play a big game. It’s okay to admit you are equal parts excited and anxious. Is Rutgers ready for primetime without Baker and without fans at the RAC? This game won’t answer that question completely, but it will certainly give a gauge of where this team truly is at. Ron Harper Jr. has played like an All-Big Ten player and needs to assert himself tonight by leading this team on both ends of the floor. The fan base is rightful to have high expectations this season and tonight is the first chance for Rutgers to deliver.