Maryland basketball is 6-1, and the Terps are set to play their third game in four days when they visit Syracuse for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
These teams overlapped in the ACC for exactly one season, so there isn’t the history that fans would want for Maryland’s annual matchup with its old conference. But a trip to the Carrier Dome is always an adventure, and Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone will present a fascinating challenge for Maryland.
The Orange made the Final Four as a No. 10 seed in 2016, then missed the NCAA Tournament entirely last season. The current squad is 5-0 and ranked 54th on KenPom, but it’s still tough to gauge where the team is at, so we brought in James Szuba from our SB Nation friends at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician (long name, but a reference) to clear some things up.
You can find James (@JamesSzuba) and the site (@NunesMagician) on Twitter. Our corresponding Q&A is on their site.
Testudo Times: Syracuse is undefeated, but hasn't played a Power 5 opponent. What have you seen from the Orange early on?
TNIAAM: Thus far Syracuse is much improved on the defensive end when benchmarked to last season. The freshmen forwards have all provided a pleasant lift despite their collective inexperience and Tyus Battle has been as good as advertised. Frank Howard has been mostly steady at the point sans a few turnovers, but he's the unequivocal leader of this team. He's the key to Syracuse's success as the lone holdover from Syracuse's 2016 Final Four squad.
TT: The team lost a lot of production from last season. Who's been the toughest to replace?
TNIAAM: I'd say Andrew White just because of his ability to space the floor and knock down shots. Syracuse will struggle to shoot the ball in stretches this season. That said, Tyler Lydon did a lot of things well. Both will be tough to replace.
TT: How has Tyus Battle stepped up in his sophomore season?
TNIAAM: Battle looks every bit the alpha of this team. He's much more aggressive on the offensive end and plays with tenacity in the zone too. There really isn't an area of his game that can be exploited.
TT: Who's an under-the-radar player that you think might have a breakout game against the Terps?
TNIAAM: Marek Dolezaj fits the bill. He weighs about a buck seventy soaking wet but he's such a deceptive athlete. He covers a lot of ground and plays with energy. Passion has a funny way of stuffing the stat sheet.
TT: How important is this game for Syracuse's non-conference season?
TNIAAM: Extremely! Syracuse was held out of the selection field last year in large part because of its poor non-conference play. While road games hold more cachet, a win against a top-50 team from another conference would do wonders for the résumé.
TT: Complete this sentence: _____ will win because _________.
TNIAAM: Maryland will win because Syracuse will struggle to score. I think Maryland should be able to limit the Orange offensively, especially if Battle isn't 100 percent. On the flip side, the Orange defense should turn Maryland over and limit outside shooting. First one to 60 wins.