Busting Brackets

ACC Basketball: Louisville suffocates Syracuse with elite defense

Feb 22, 2017; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino reacts in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2017; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino reacts in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Louisville easily knocked off ACC basketball rival Syracuse at the KFC Yum! Center on Sunday.

Just three games ago, the Louisville Cardinals needed overtime and some dramatics to knock off the Syracuse Orange in the Carrier Dome.

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Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and it was less than a thriller, as the Cardinals dominated the Orange from start to finish to notch an 88-68 win that keeps them tied for second place in the ACC standings.

The Cardinals suffocated Syracuse with their elite defense, forcing the Orange to shoot just 36 percent from field overall and 28 percent from beyond the arc. They forced Jim Boeheim’s squad into 16 turnovers and held point guard John Gillon and shooting guard Andrew White to a combined 17 points on just 5-of-16 shooting. White, in particular, had just seven points with most of them coming in garbage time.

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Louisville’s success defensively comes from the fact that they switch defenses, sometimes even mid-possession, making it difficult for opposing teams to differentiate the looks. However, it’s also a matter of their quick hands, length, and athleticism.

Maybe it was the fact that they wanted to avenge their blowout loss to UNC, but the Cardinals looked like the best defensive team in the country.

And it wasn’t like their offense wasn’t clicking either. The Cardinals had four players who scored in double figures, including Donovan Mitchell, who had 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 6-of-10 from beyond the three-point line. Raymond Spalding chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds, Deng Adel had 17 points and Quentin Snider added 12.

The Cardinals successfully attacked the Orange’s zone by screening the top and attacking the gaps. They also hit nine three’s (45 percent), 57 percent of their shots overall and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.

While Louisville had the game in the bag for most of the afternoon, there was a little spurt from the Orange that gave them a bit of hope. With 9:08 remaining, White made a layup that cut the Cardinals’ lead down to 11. At that point, the Orange were hoping to cut the lead further with their press. However, with just six players, Syracuse wore down rather quickly, giving Adel and others free lanes to the basket. Louisville was literally beating the Orange down the floor as some players were walking and struggling to get into position after the ensuing inbounds.

The game was then capped off by a Mitchell slam that is almost surely one of the dunks of the year in college hoops.

Looking forward for Louisville, if they win out (at Wake Forest and home vs. Notre Dame) and make a significant run in the ACC Tournament, they very well could be the top two seed in the NCAA Tournament and even a number one seed if North Carolina slips up. Regardless, the Cardinals have National Championship potential because they can survive an off-night shooting the basketball. And then when they are on target, they are awfully difficult to match-up with.

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Meanwhile, Syracuse still has work to do to securely wrap up a tournament bid. The Orange have to beat Georgia Tech at the Carrier Dome next Saturday and may have to win another game in the ACC Tournament. Remember the Orange have 13 losses with four of those coming at the hands of Boston College, St. John’s (by 33!), UConn and Georgetown. Finishing above .500 in the ACC is necessary and it wouldn’t hurt to earn more quality victories, especially on a neutral site.