I know nothing about UNC-Asheville, except that it is located in Asheville, NC. Let’s see what cumulative stats and box scores on the internet can tell us!
On the year they score 81.5 points per game, good for fifth nationally. A lot of this stems from the incredibly fast pace at which they play. They average 71.1 possessions per 40min, 16th in the country. This is good because SU has been having to slog through game after game ever since Notre Dame. Frankly, I think it’s taken a cumulative toll on their offense. They certainly don’t have the exceptional offensive rhythm that they did early in the season. But if UNCA wants to run and gun, that could help SU rediscover some of their mojo. These two teams are nearly identical in points-per-possession (UNCA 1.14, SU 1.13, both top 15 nationally) so I expect a high-scoring track meet. UNCA has shot the ball exceptionally well this year, 13th in the nation at over 48%. As a team, they shot 35% from deep, but well over half their attempts come from two players: their two leading scorers Matt Dickey (38%) and JP Primm (36%). Actually, they don’t chuck threes all that often: fewer than 1/3 of their FG attempts on the season were threes. While they are 14th in the country in FG made, they are only 110th in 3-pointers made. (This is where I would like to see a little game film, to see where their offense is focused. They are guard-dominated but without a perimeter-heavy attack.)
Asheville has played close games against good competition. They lost by 10 to UConn in Maui, by 9 at NC State, and by just 4 at Tennessee in a game they led by 10 in the 2nd half. Plus, they were in the tournament last year, and their top six players are all upperclassmen who played in the NCAAs last year, so they shouldn’t be intimidated at all. SU had better be focused, particularly on defense, particularly after their poor defensive showing in the last game, or this one could be a lot closer than anyone reading this would like.
UNCA is not a good rebounding team, another factor in SU’s favor as that is the Orange’s primary weakness. Despite the rapid pace at which UNCA plays their games, they grab only 34.7 rebounds per game, which is a very average number nationwide. Their leading rebounders are 6′4″ Jeremy Atkinson and 6′3″ Chris Stephenson, each with over 6 boards per game. Presumably CJ Fair and Fab Melo sould be able to dominate the glass… presumably. They do have a 7-footer on the roster — freshman center Jaleel Roberts — but he plays just 5 minutes a game. They have three forwards at 6′4″ or 6′5″ among their top six players: Atkinson, Quinard Jackson and Jaron Lane. All three shoot better than 50% from the floor, which I expect means they get a lot of touches close to the rim. None of the three shoots that often from deep; each one with fewer than two 3pt attempts per game. So either they take and make a lot of 15-footers, or they are undersized post players.
I also just had the thought that with the fast pace at which UNCA plays, a lot of their impressive shooting percentage probably comes on fast break points. I can’t find that statistic but I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s part of Syracuse’s high shooting percentage on the year too.
UNCA’s defense is not that good. They give up over 71 points per game. Again, much of that is due to their fast pace — since they had 71.1 possessions per game, so did their opponents. But those opponents averaged just slightly over 1 point per possession, which is only middling. (For comparison, SU’s opponents averaged just 0.92 points per possession, good for 18th in the nation. And those opponents were, on the whole, of a much higher caliber.)
So SU has a decided advantage in size and talent. Both teams have effective offenses but only SU has an effective defense. So dispatching the Bulldogs should be a straightforward task. That said, every single Syracuse fan dreads being the first #1 to lose to a #16, and we know it could happen to us. We won’t feel safe until that final horn sounds.