Over the last couple of decades, Syracuse has had a solid – if infrequent – level of performance against Kansas. Since 1996, the Orange have squared off against the Jayhawks four times.
Among those four games are three wins for the guys from the Salt City. First was on the way to the Final Four in 1996. That was followed up with a lopsided loss in the NCAA Tournament in 2001. Next was some game played in New Orleans in 2003. I’m not entirely familiar with what happened in that one. Finally, in 2008, the Orange beat the Jayhawks in a “neutral site” game in Kansas City.
Tomorrow, the Orange face the Jayhawks looking to make it three wins in a row, four of the last five, and four of six overall in the history of the series.
Kansas, of course, comes in ranked No. 2 in the nation and boasting a 6-0 record, with the most impressive of those wins coming against Kentucky. The Jayhawks and Orange have played three of the same opponents as part of the HoopHall Invitational: Texas Southern, Oakland, and Toledo. They’ve blown out all three in emphatic fashion.
First was Texas Southern, a game in which the Jayhawks prevailed 114-71. (Syracuse topped Texas Southern 80-67.) Next up was Oakland, a team that Kansas defeated 102-59. (The Orange won 74-50.) And finally, Kansas thrashed Toledo 96-58. (An opponent Syracuse defeated 72-64.)
So, yeah… the margin of victory has been just slightly in Kansas’s favor in those three common opponent meetings. But then again, Kansas also boasts one of the best margin-of-victory averages in all of college basketball, so that’s to be expected. This year, the Jayhawks are winning by an average score of 94.5 to 61.5, which… guys, that’s a lot of points.
This Kansas team, in other words, is good. Very good. They shoot 54% from the field and 45% from three point range. They limit opponents to 36% shooting from the field and 30% accuracy from distance. They out-rebound opponents by a margin of nearly 9 boards-per-game.
Beating Kansas is going to be a very tall order, which begs the question… can the Orange pull it off?
Well, Syracuse may be a bit under-manned this year, but so is Kansas. The Jayhawks are only seven players deep right now, with six of those players logging at least 25 minutes-per-game. All five starters average at least 13 points-per-game, so they’re getting the vast majority of their points from a small group with virtually no bench production. They’re also still missing potential freshman stud Billy Preston, who you may recall briefly flirted with the Orange before eventually picking Kansas. He hasn’t played yet this year as he continues to be investigated with regard to the circumstances surrounding a minor car accident he got into (specifically, there are serious questions about where he got the car).
The Jayhawks have plenty of size, and 6-foot-8 swingman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is shooting a nearly-incomprehensible 56.4% from three point range (on a team-high 39 attempts) and scoring 18.2 points-per-game. The only thing harder than pronouncing his name might be defending the Ukrainian import.
They still have Devonte’ Graham, a kid I recall noticing in every highlight film I watched of Chris McCullough back when they played together at Brewster Academy. Obviously by now, everyone is aware of Graham, and how good he is, but I reflect back to that and think about how good you must be to stand out in someone else’s highlight film.
I referenced Mykhailiuk’s stupidly good three point percentage, but 7-footer Udoka Azubuike has an equally absurd percentage from inside the arc. For the year, he’s hitting 75.9% of his field goal attempts and is second on the team in scoring at 16 points-per-game. That’s… ugh. You guys, that’s just ridiculously efficient offense right there. The dude has scored 96 points on only 58 field goal attempts. I mean… ridiculously efficient.
And of course, that means that not only will the Syracuse wings have their hands full covering Graham and Mykhailiuk, but Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe will need to be able to stay out of foul trouble and give Azubuike some difficulty in the post.
All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned Malik Newman, who was a top 10 recruit and McDonald’s All-American in high school, then went to Mississippi State, transferred to Kansas, and has finally become eligible and is averaging about 13 points-per-game for the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks aren’t deep. Like, at all. But they’re extremely top-heavy in terms of talent.
Can Syracuse beat Kansas tomorrow? I mean, it’s certainly feasible. But the Orange will have to play a strong game in all facets. Zone rotations will have to be sharp, and the forwards will have to get a body on the Kansas bigs to keep them off the glass and stop them from converting too many second chance points. Syracuse has been strong on the boards this year, so they should be able to battle the Jayhawks well in that regard. But make no mistake, the Orange will need their best rebounding game of the season tomorrow if they want to pull off the upset.
Syracuse also needs to limit turnovers, as well, and find some efficiency in the offense. The Orange aren’t going to make many threes, so they need to be able to get good, smart shots, which means ball movement will be key. The Jayhawks only turn it over 11 times per game so transition points may be a little tough to come by, but if Tyus Battle and Frank Howard can harass the Kansas guards and create a few easy scoring chances, it’ll go a long way toward pulling out a win.
Shockingly, everyone needs to play good, smart basketball if the Orange are going to defeat the No. 2 team in the country. Who could have guessed?