Well that was unexpected. Last season UNC lost four games by a combined 16 points. On Friday night they lost to Syracuse by 16 points, 87-71. Just like last night against California, it was Syracuse's defense that propelled them to this huge win. The Orange forced 18 turnovers, 14 off of steals.
After the game some members wore t-shirts that bore their new team motto, "Shut It Down." And that's exactly what the Orange have done through their first four games. They held the Tar Heels to 38% from the field and 25% from three-point range. The 2-3 zone is always vulnerable to offensive rebounds and UNC had many second chances grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. But the length of the zone really disrupted the offensive flow for North Carolina. The only consistent scoring threat was Ed Davis down on the block. He finished with 16 points on just six shots.
For the Orange, it was another team effort but Tournament MVP Wesley Johnson led the way. Johnson shot 10 for 17 for 25 points including shooting four of eight from distance. Four other players scored in double figures including 15 from Onuaku. Johnson might have been the star but what Andy Rautins did can't be overlooked. Rautins might be diminutive in stature but he is as tough as anyone on defense. He had seven steals and constantly disrupted UNC's guards.
So, what does this mean? Well, it's probably a combination of North Carolina being young and overrated and Syracuse being underrated. North Carolina lost four of their starting five from last year's championship team. They have yet to hit their stride and should get better as the season progresses. But you can say the same for Syracuse. They lost the majority of their scorers from last year with Flynn, Harris, and Devendorf all moving on. On defense they look like they've played together for years. On offense they are still getting used to each other but they move the ball pretty well. They need to work it in through the post more than they have and that will open up perimeter shots but the guards have been able to penetrate and kick it out for those threes or dish them out in transition.
I mentioned yesterday how UNC had won 44 non-conference games in a row. How fitting that Syracuse snapped that streak. Looking ahead, Syracuse now enters their annual cupcake schedule. They have four home games in a row against Cornell, Columbia, Colgate and Maine. As long as they don't pull a Le Moyne they should walk over those four before playing at Florida on December 10th. Suddenly, this season is looking like it will be a lot of fun. I wonder if Tobias Harris is regretting his decision now?