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Syracuse at Clemson Basketball Preview: Q&A with Nunes Magician

Clemson concludes their season with senior day in Littlejohn against Syracuse.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup: Syracuse (KenPom #36) at Clemson (KenPom #29)

Time: 12:00pm EST

Location: Littlejohn Coliseum - Clemson, SC


Senior day is here. Clemson will honor Eli Thomas, Marquise Reed, David Skara, and Shelton Mitchell. The quartet will try to etch their names in Clemson basketball history by leading the program back to the NCAA tournament after leading them to the program’s fourth ever Sweet 16 a year ago. Now, a basketball power from the north - Syracuse - stands in their way.

To help preview this must-win matchup, we synced up with James Szuba from Nunes Magician. You can follow him on Twitter here. Enjoy the discussion!

STS: Despite having nearly identical records, Clemson (18-12) and Syracuse (19-11) have had very different seasons. Clemson has only one win against teams in the KenPom top 45, but they’ve only lost two games to teams currently outside the top 45 (Creighton and Miami), both of which came away from Clemson. Meanwhile Syracuse has won at Duke, blew out Louisville, and beat Clemson, but has lost four times to teams outside the top 45 (UConn, Oregon, Old Dominion, Georgia Tech), three of them coming in New York.

What’s the biggest key to Syracuse coming in and looking like the team that beat Duke rather than the team that lost to Georgia Tech on Saturday?

Szuba: Syracuse just needs to compete for a full 40 minutes against Clemson. The Orange actually held leads against Duke, UNC and Virginia at the half in its last three losses, but have found ways to collapse in the second half. That’s unlike Syracuse and probably has more to do with those three opponents than anything. I think Syracuse is at a different point as a team than it was in the Georgia Tech game. The guys have taken care of business by beating the teams it was supposed to since that date.

STS: For the 9th time in the past 10 seasons, Syracuse has a top 20 defense (per KenPom efficiency metrics). They’re the tallest team in the country and have the most blocks per opportunity. Opponents tend to shoot a great deal of three-pointers against the Syracuse 2-3 zone and they shoot them at a poor percentage. Is that the mark of a well-tuned Boeheim 2-3 zone? Can you tell us a little about this particular iteration of the Syracuse defense?

Szuba: Man, you just hit the nail on the head. Syracuse is the tallest team in the country as its “shortest” starter is 6’5”. The length is always a problem and as you noted, teams tend take a lot of outside shots against the 2-3. That, and the Orange are among the nation’s leaders in turnover percentage. It has had its lapses at times, but when all five players are on the same page it’s not easy to attack.

STS: The last time these two teams played, Clemson did a good job holding Syracuse to just 61 points, but couldn’t score enough to earn a win. What is the biggest key for Clemson’s offense to be more productive? Is it really as simple as shooting a higher three-point percentage?

Szuba: Well, shooting a higher percentage usually means generating open shots. Teams can do that in a multitude of ways -- Virginia had success by getting the ball in the high post, waiting for the center to come up and then dribbling the ball back up to the top of the key and sucking the center away. That created a ton of problems for Syracuse defensively.

I generally think the key (more often than not) is getting the ball into the high post. I’ve always been a fan of the 1-4 set against a 2-3 zone, but that’s just me.

STS: With the bubble as weak as it is – in large part due to the Pac-12 potentially not earning any at-large bids – Syracuse seems to be safely in the tournament as a 7-10 seed. Is this season considered a success by fans or frustrating given the Final Four pedigree of Syracuse?

Szuba: If you asked this question a year ago it would have an entirely different response. Given preseason expectations and five returning starters, Syracuse fans are frustrated with the overall season at this point. I think knowing that Syracuse is going to the tournament is appeasing to some, but overall I’d say the fan base is disappointed with the on court result this season. That could change with another run in the NCAA Tournament though.

STS: Let’s jump over to football before we wrap up. Coach Babers has resurrected the football program after floundering under Coach Shafer. Last season, were the second best team in the ACC and gave Clemson their toughest test. Sustaining success at Syracuse is tough given the location, facilities, and basketball culture up there. What are fan expectations for football in the years ahead and how beloved (I’m assuming) is the charismatic Dino Babers by the fans?

Szuba: Yeah, Syracuse loves Dino Babers and there’s a growing understanding amongst the fan base that Syracuse is turning into a football school. The football team is coming off a 10 win season and a bowl victory over West Virginia and the fan base couldn’t be more satisfied with last season. Given big wins in 2016 (Virginia Tech) and 2017 (Clemson, hi), we saw this coming, but the football team exceeded expectations in 2018. Syracuse fans are looking for the chains to keep moving as the program enters top 25 territory.

STS: Back to the game at hand… Shooting guard Tyus Battle leads Syracuse in scoring at over 17 points per game. He can shoot the three, but is more of an attacker – at least that’s what the numbers indicate. He’ll be going up against Marquise Reed, Clemson’s shooting guard and leading scorer who boasts a deadly mid-range game. What do you expect to see in this matchup? Lastly, how do you predict this game will play out?

Szuba: Well, Reed will going up against the 2-3 zone on the other side of the ball. But he’s more than capable of having a good shooting night. Battle should have a solid night now that De’Andre Hunter isn’t guarding him. He should get to the rim and find his mid-range stepback with relative ease.

I’ll say a Clemson team in dire need of a win comes through on its home floor over Syracuse 66-65.

STS: We give James Szuba a big thanks for joining us! If you enjoyed this article, please check out the other half that is posted on their website (here).