Syracuse Basketball: No. 7 Vols pose big problems on both ends of court

Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

Syracuse basketball, in its opening game of the 2023 Allstate Maui Invitational in Honolulu, will face a high-quality Tennessee squad that will present massive challenges for the ‘Cuse on both ends of the floor.

The Volunteers (3-0) are ranked No. 7 nationally in the latest Associated Press top-25 poll. Tennessee was predicted to win the Southeastern Conference during the 2023-24 campaign, per the league’s preseason media poll that came out in mid-October.

The ‘Cuse, too, sits at 3-0 so far in the young 2023-24 season, with home non-conference victories over New Hampshire, Canisius and, most recently, Colgate in a thrilling affair.

But the Vols, a group that to date has defeated Tennessee Tech and Wofford at home along with Wisconsin on the road, are on a whole different playing field, in my humble opinion. The Orange and Tennessee will suit up beginning at 2:30 pm EST on Monday, Nov. 20, with television coverage on ESPN2.

Let’s take a deep dive into Syracuse basketball versus No. 7 Tennessee in Hawaii.

For a smidge of recent historical context, the ‘Cuse went 17-15 in 2022-23, missing the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row. Last year, the Volunteers went 25-11 overall and 11-7 in league games.

As a No. 4 seed in the 2023 Big Dance held this past spring, Tennessee knocked off Duke in the round of 32 before falling to eventual Final Four participant Florida Atlantic in the Sweet 16. In last season’s final Coaches top-25 poll, the Volunteers checked in at No. 16 nationally.

Here are some statistics to consider as Syracuse basketball gets set to face off with Tennessee:

80.7 points per game
57.7 points allowed per game (top 25 nationwide at the time of this writing)
47.2 field-goal percentage
35.8 field-goal percentage defense
37.8 3-point shooting percentage
24.7 3-point shooting percentage defense
82.1 free-throw percentage
Plus 6.0 rebounding margin
Plus 3.7 turnover margin
14.7 points off of turnovers
6.3 points off of turnovers allowed
6.7 steals per game

Syracuse basketball
83.7 points per game
74.7 points allowed per game (tied for No. 251 nationally at the time of this writing)
45.2 field-goal percentage
44.3 field-goal percentage defense
29.2 3-point shooting percentage
35.1 3-point shooting percentage defense (No. 265 nationwide)
75.8 free-throw percentage
Minus 2.0 rebounding margin
Plus 6.4 turnover margin
18.7 points off of turnovers
13.0 points off of turnovers allowed
10.0 steals per game

As you can see, the ‘Cuse is going to have its hands full with the Vols on both ends of the court. The Orange has to perform better on defense, particularly on the perimeter as well as on the glass.

When I wrote this article, by the way, KenPom had Tennessee at No. 8 in overall efficiency, No. 22 in adjusted offensive efficiency and a stellar No. 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Yikes.

If the ‘Cuse isn’t shooting well from deep, it has to prioritize driving to the rim for scores in the paint, along with getting to the free-throw line – a lot. What’s more, Syracuse basketball thrives in transition, so pushing the ball after defensive rebounds and forced turnovers is of paramount importance.

On paper, Tennessee looks to have a supreme advantage over the ‘Cuse in many areas. But at the same time, this Syracuse basketball 2023-24 roster has a lot of fight, grit and toughness, so I’m not writing off the Orange, regardless of the dim statistical outlook.

After the ‘Cuse battles the Volunteers, Syracuse basketball will play either Purdue or Gonzaga, and then one of Kansas, Chaminade, UCLA or Marquette in the Orange’s final affair at the Maui Invitational.

This loaded event takes place from November 20 to November 22 at the University of Hawaii’s SimpliFi Arena in Honolulu.

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