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Clemson to Host Syracuse with Backs to Wall: Q&A Preview

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Clemson returns home to face Syracuse after getting blown out against FSU. To prepare us for another must win game, we spoke with the James Szuba at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson has a huge home game at 8pm on Tuesday they must win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. To help us preview the matchup, James Szuba, from SB Nation’s Syracuse site has joined us. You can follow James on Twitter here. Now, onto our Q&A.

Syracuse had a brutal non-conference showing in which they went just 8-5 with no KenPom adjusted Top 100 wins. Then they started ACC play with a loss to Boston College. Now they've won four straight including wins over Florida State and Virginia. What's changed?

Well we did beat Monmouth which is just on the outside of a top-50 RPI ranking, but yeah, things looked bleak.

The zone has really improved in recent weeks and things are starting to click. It's still not where we'd like it to be but the improvement is a positive sign. Couple that with improved point guard play (John Gillon) and Syracuse is 4-0 these past two weeks.

Syracuse is last in the ACC in defensive rebounding percentage (ACC games only). How significant is their rebounding problem (i.e., could it actually be worse than ours)?

Well playing a zone for 40 minutes will do that to you, so you're going to get out rebounded a bit. But all things considered, the guys could board a little better. Andrew White is really a guard playing the forward in the zone, but he's battling in there. Lydon is better at center than at the wing, so when Taurean Thompson plays center we're at a bit of a rebounding disadvantage.

I love the zone defense. It's part of a unique brand they've created for themselves in Syracuse and the past success shows it can work. This year has been less dominant though as they are barely inside top 100 nationally in defensive efficiency. What's worked and what hasn't with the Syracuse zone?

Losing two fifth-year seniors at the top of the zone has really hurt. But the guys have struggled getting out to shooters this year. They've been better, but the zone is still a ways away.

Syracuse is 12th in the ACC in 3P% allowed. ACC teams have attempted more three-points (as a proportion) against the Orange than any other conference foe. To what extent do teams have to beat Syracuse from the outside to stand a chance?

I think it's just a matter of team's taking what's available to them (i.e., Syracuse hasn't gotten to the three well, so teams are making them pay). You can beat Syracuse by going inside, too. But perimeter shots and crashing the glass might be your best bet.

6'7" Senior Andrew White has averaged over 17 ppg with sterling efficiency this season. In Syracuse's four game win streak, he has scored 23+ in each game. Tell us a bit about his game.

White has evolved a great deal from the beginning of the season when he was just a one trick pony. He's an absolute sniper - a hand in his face doesn't seem to faze him. He's taking it off the bounce now and shooting the mid-range with consistently. He struggles finishing around the rim, but he has a knack for drawing fouls when he drives to the tin. And yeah, when he gets to the line he's near automatic.

Is this a must-win for Syracuse if they are to make the NCAA tournament? Do they win?

I wouldn't qualify it as a must win, but a road win against a fellow bubble team would certainly help the cause. I'll take Clemson in a nail-biter with the home court serving as the deciding factor.

A big thank you to James for lending his insight. Our answers to their questions can be found here.