The University of Miami basketball team was unable to overcome Virginia’s pack-line defense in a 59-50 loss Tuesday night; and now the Hurricanes face a completely different — and equally daunting — challenge: The Syracuse 2-3 zone.
The Orange is in town to face Miami Saturday at noon (CBS) at the Watsco Center, and both teams are in the middle of the pack of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, seeking a resume-boosting win heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
UM is 18-7 overall and 7-6 in the ACC. Syracuse is 17-9, and 6-7 in the league.
Fans are invited to a pre-game tailgate starting at 11 a.m., with grilled burgers, chips and drinks for sale in front of the arena. Once the whistle blows, the picnic is over.
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The Syracuse Zone: “If you look at the history of Syracuse, they’re the tallest, biggest team in the country,” said UM coach Jim Larranaga. “They’re like 6-6, 6-6 at the guard, 6-8, 6-9, 7-2 across the front line. And they play that zone defense about as well as anybody in the country.” Miami’s big men — Dewan Huell, Ebuka Izundu, Sam Waardenburg and Anthony Lawrence will be challenged every time they touch the ball.
UM’s three-point shooting: In order to counter the zone, the Canes will need to be prolific from beyond the arc. “It’s huge,” Larranaga said. “You can get threes. It’s really hard to get the ball inside. If you get the ball inside, to a guy in good position, he’s being challenged by 7-2 long and athletic big guy.” The onus will be on UM’s sharpshooters — DJ Vasiljevic, Lonnie Walker IV, Lawrence, Chris Lykes, Waardenburg — to hit from distance.
“I got a lot of shots off against the zone at practice [Thursday] so I’m comfortable,” Vasiljevic said. “Everyone looks at me first when we’re playing a zone, and a lot of my teammates have emphasized to me that I need to have a big game. I know my teammates will find me, and they can score, too. It’s not just me, shooting against the zone.”
Syracuse has been vulnerable on the perimeter in recent games. Wake Forest went 9-of-13 from three point range in the second half and N.C. State went 7-of-13.
Guard matchup: Asked what challenges are posed by Syracuse guards Tyus Battle and Franklin Howard, Larranaga said, “You mean, going against Chris Lykes, who’s 5-7, and DJ (Vasiljevic), who’s like 6-2? That’s a challenge for us defensively. Those are not great matchups for us, so we have to rely very heavily on team defense. We can’t let them to use their size to their advantage.”
Battle averages 20.2 points per game, and has played 40 minutes in seven straight games. He leads all Division I players with 38.7 minutes played per game. Howard has improved from 4.5 points per game to 15.1 this season. Lykes has averated 16 points for UM over the past three games, including a career-high 19 against Virginia.
Syracuse freshman Oshae Brissett: Brissett, a rookie forward, scored 25 points against the Wolfpack, his third 25-point game this season. Miami’s Huell and Lawrence will have to keep him in check.
Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu: The center injured his back on Wednesday night in a loss to N.C. State. His status for the game is unknown, but even if he plays, he may be limited. His backup, freshman Bourama Sidibe, has been battling tendinitis.