Jim Boeheim told reporters before the season that he expected Syracuse would be a better defensive team this season, and with more games like the one 7-2 junior center Paschal Chukwu just played, the longtime coach’s 2-3 zone may be ready to create sleepless nights for opponents again. The Orange attempt to build off their best performance of the season and continue their impressive start Wednesday when they welcome undefeated Toledo into the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse ranked eighth in the ACC in 3-point percentage defense, ninth in field-goal percentage defense and 14th in defensive rebounding in 2016-17, but the early returns of this season have been favorable in all three areas. Chukwu was a dominant force in Monday’s 74-50 victory over Oakland, setting career highs in points (12), rebounds (11) and blocks (eight) while also playing a key role in limiting the Golden Grizzlies to 30.5 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent beyond the arc. “This is what we missed last year. (When) Paschal can control the middle of the court like that - it just (makes) such a difference. … He just changed the whole game,” Boeheim said. The Rockets moved to 3-0 for the first time since winning their first 12 games of the 2013-14 season with Saturday’s 87-74 victory over Oakland despite shooting 4-for-21 from 3-point range.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ACC Network Extra
ABOUT TOLEDO (3-0): Despite misfiring on each of his 10 3-point attempts over the least two contests, Jaelan Sanford (team-high 23.3 points) is shooting 54.2 percent from the floor overall and has already enjoyed a career-high 31-point effort against Saint Joseph’s in addition to his 26-point showing versus Oakland. Colorado transfer Tre’Shaun Fletcher paces the Rockets in assists (4.7) and also ranks second in scoring (20 points per game) and rebounding (8.3), corralling at least seven boards in every contest. Sophomore forward Luke Knapke, who came off the bench Saturday to post his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 boards, leads the team in rebounds (9.3) and blocks (two per game).
ABOUT SYRACUSE (4-0): Sophomore guard Tyus Battle (team-high 23 points per game) has led the Orange in scoring in all four games and done so efficiently, connecting on 53.5 percent of his field-goal attempts after posting 25 points on 9-for-17 from the floor versus Oakland. Junior point guard Frank Howard added a career-high 18 points, while freshman forward Oshae Brissett added 11 points and nine rebounds Monday. Chukwu played a career-high 31 minutes in part due to Boeheim’s desire to limit the playing time of 6-10 freshman forward Bourama Sidibe, who entered Monday averaging 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19.3 minutes but was limited to seven minutes against the Golden Grizzlies due to a sore knee.
1. This game is the second of three on-campus games for Syracuse as part of the HoopHall Miami Invitiational, which will conclude with a showdown against Kansas on Dec. 2.
2. The Golden Grizzlies are one of 16 teams in the nation returning over 70 percent of their points and rebounds from last season.
3. The Orange’s four opponents have combined to shoot 34.1 percent from the field and 27.5 percent beyond the arc.
PREDICTION: Syracuse 77, Toledo 64