WATCH: FSU hoops at Syracuse (TV LISTINGS)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Florida State senior Terance Mann has played against Syracuse four times over the last three-plus seasons, more than enough to know that there won’t be any surprises when the No. 22 Seminoles visit the Orange on Tuesday night (8 p.m., Raycom).
“It’s pretty much the same,” Mann said. “They play that 2-3 zone and they have two great scorers. Ever since I’ve been here, it’s kind of been like that.”
Indeed, in an era of transition for college basketball – and the sport as a whole – the Orange and coach Jim Boeheim are more or less still plugging away with the same philosophies that have made Syracuse one of the country’s preeminent programs of the last 40 years.
Other schools might cycle in one-and-done freshmen year in and year out. Other teams might be built around 3-point shooting. Others might have different approaches based on a surge of analytical data.
But Syracuse, under Boeheim, will continue to play that infamous zone. And it will continue to have NBA-caliber players on its roster.
Led by guard Tyus Battle’s 17.5 points per game, the Orange have three players averaging double-digit points per game. Battle, forward Elijah Hughes (14.1 PPG) and forward Oshae Brissett (13.5 PPG) account for 64 percent of the Orange’s scoring output.
They also combined to score 68 points in Syracuse’s 95-91 win at Duke last month.
Then there’s that defense.
“Obviously the famed zone defense is a problem,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Because it’s consistent. They’re going to take certain things away from you, and they’re going to give you an opportunity to play in those areas where there are not high-percentage (shots). That’s what they bank on. …
“If you can beat them in those low-percentage areas, sometimes you’ll be successful.”
Complicating matters is that Syracuse has plenty of length with which to clog passing lanes and contest shots.
Down the starting lineup, the Orange have players that stand at 7-foot-2 (Paschal Chukwu), 6-8 (Brissett), 6-6 (Hughes), 6-6 (Battle) and 6-5 (Frank Howard).
“Their exceptional length gives them an advantage when they’re protecting the rim and taking down sight lines,” Hamilton said. “So that’s why they’ve been able to be as successful as they have over the years.”
Florida State, however, might have one significant head standing over Syracuse’s shoulders: Senior center Christ Koumadje, of course, is the ACC’s tallest player at 7-foot-4.
Koumadje served as something of a “zone-buster” the last time the Seminoles met Syracuse, scoring a career-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and four blocks in a 101-90, double-overtime victory a year ago.
Even better, Koumadje seems to be warming up after a slow start to ACC play.
He scored nine quick points in FSU’s win at Miami last week, and then followed that up with six points and eight boards in 19 minutes in the Seminoles’ victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday.
That recent stretch, along with a proven track record against Syracuse, has Koumadje feeling confident.
“It’s just being more aggressive,” Koumadje said. “I feel like opportunities are finding me and I just have to deliver.”
Beyond that, the Seminoles’ best bet to beat the zone will be the same as it is for every team:
“You have to knock down jump shots,” Hamilton said.
Which can be a challenge, particularly at Syracuse’s oversized Carrier Dome, a multi-purpose venue that provides shooters with different sight lines and depth of vision than a typical basketball arena.
“It’s much bigger,” Mann said. “(There’s) so much space, and that can kind of mess you up. But most of us have played there twice if not once, so it should be fine.”
While allowing that shooting success has been a “moving target” for FSU, Hamilton also noted that the Seminoles have made encouraging strides in that area of late.
After combining for an average 38.5 shooting percentage in their first five ACC games, the Seminoles are up to a combined 45.4 percent in their last three contests – all of them victories, and one of which was a low-scoring, defensive affair against Georgia Tech.
That the last two came against zone-heavy defenses (albeit different types of zones) in Miami and Georgia Tech doesn’t hurt, either.
“You have to have a balance of inside and outside attack,” Hamilton said. “That’s the challenge, and the fun part, of being in the ACC.”