NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats

Size versus speed. Our next match represents a classic stylistic battle. One team starts a traditional lineup with a seven-footer, flanked by a massive power forward and a “small” forward who weighs 240 pounds. The other team starts no traditional power players, substituting shooting ability and lineup flexibility for size and strength. Which team will enforce their will upon the other? The battle between the NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats represents a clash of basketball philosophies.

NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats

Key Matchups

Richard Jefferson and Sean Elliott vs. Derrick Coleman – This series may hinge on which team’s forwards adapt better defensively. Arizona will go key stretches of each game hoping to survive with Richard Jefferson guarding Derrick Coleman. Conversely, Coleman will have to get comfortable guarding the perimeter and switching defensively on to smaller, quicker players. How badly will Coleman punish the smaller Wildcats on the block? Can Arizona expose DC on the perimeter and force Syracuse to downsize? Coleman may be better served defensively playing as the five in the series, since…

Rony Seikaly vs. perimeter shooting – …this matchup isn’t going to work out defensively for Syracuse. Seikaly is ill-equipped to extend his defense out to the perimeter, and would be toast when Arizona runs pick and pop with one of their perimeter options and Channing Frye. Syracuse can counter by posting Seikaly up and trying to get Frye into foul trouble, so Arizona can bring in more traditional big men off the bench. This adjustment may also have to occur if and when Syracuse punishes Arizona on the glass, as detailed below.

Two-point field goals vs. Three-point field goals – The game of basketball has evolved to the point that one team is currently averaging over 40 three-point field goal attempts per game in the 2016-17 season (Houston). The three point shot has become the most important weapon in the sport. Expect Arizona to run wild from behind the arc, while Syracuse will try to keep pace with a more traditional offensive attack.

Biggest Mismatches

Syracuse’s rebounding advantage – Arizona is dead in the water in any game where their threes aren’t falling, because Syracuse should own them on the offensive and defensive boards. Seikaly and Coleman were excellent rebounders, which can’t be said for anybody in Arizona’s starting lineup. Arizona has two options to stop the bleeding on the glass: Jordan Hill, a tenacious rebounder with a limited offensive and defensive skill set, and Bison Dele, a less tenacious rebounder who was very skilled offensively and could make the Syracuse big men work defensively. Both players will see a lot of time, but Dele will be particularly busy as Arizona’s sole threatening post-up option. Unless they play together, Syracuse will see plenty of second and third shot opportunities on offense, and will limit Arizona’s attempts on the other end of the court.

Arizona’s three-point advantage – Each team has a clear path to victory. If Syracuse can slow the pace and make this a half-court battle, Dave Bing, Carmelo Anthony, and their superior rebounders should make them victorious. Arizona will play uptempo, and bomb from long-range with Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, Channing Frye, Gilbert Arenas, Sean Elliott, Damon Stoudamire, and the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point field goal percentage Steve Kerr leading the charge. If several of these players are knocking down their shots, Syracuse will have a difficult time keeping up.

Arizona’s depth – Arizona has quality depth throughout their bench, and will use a variety of options each game. Several of their bench players, such as Mike Bibby and Sean Elliott, are as good as the players who start above them, and they’ll utilize a hot-hand approach throughout the matchup. Syracuse has a clear drop off whenever they turn to their inferior second unit. Expect Danny Schayes and Billy Owens to earn the bulk of their bench minutes, with the other players mixing in as needed, but Syracuse’s starting lineup will carry a heavy burden in each game.


Evolution of NBA basketball – One key aspect of this tournament is that modern-day rules are in effect. This should be a huge advantage for Arizona, who will benefit from less hand-checking on the perimeter on offense, and more creative ways to guard post players on defense. Non-traditional, smaller lineups are also in vogue, though certain teams, including the incomparable Spurs, manage to thrive with traditional, bigger lineups.


Throughout their history, Syracuse Orange alums have been sporadically successful in the NBA, and have underachieved relative to their success in college. While the school has produced two hall-of-fame players (Bing and Anthony), the rest of their roster is littered with underachievers and players who are not necessarily suited for the modern game. Arizona, led by the defensive mastery of Andre Iguodala, and an overabundance of three-point firepower, moves on to the second round.

Wildcats win, four games to two.

Next Round

Arizona faces the NBA UCLA Bruins.

4 thoughts on “NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats”

  1. Excellent write-up as always.

    My question is less related to this specific matchup and more about your general guidelines – specifically, your decision to go with modern rules (5 second post up, no contacts with hands or forearms, zone defenses, etc) that cater towards doughnut teams like the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets, a decided bias against the classic teams that played inside-out.

    I realize that these sort of decisions are based on aesthetic reasons, but I would like to hear your reasoning behind this. Do you really like teams shooting 50 threes a game? Does this strategy work in pressure situations like the playoffs where physical play is given more leeway, which takes away the legs of shooters in general?

    If there’s a 7 game match between a D’Antoni-styled perimeter oriented team and a classic team with superstar bigs, the latter team often wins the majority of the time because it’s easier to control games if you have interior defenders and rebounding advantage instead of sheer 3 point accuracy. The modern rules work towards the advantage of sharpshooting teams in the regular season, where there’s less preparation and practice time, but not as much in the playoffs.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I felt the need to clarify which rules were in effect for this tournament, since it can have a big impact on the outcome. I went with the modern day rules mainly because it seemed arbitrary to use anything different, but I understand your point. I do feel that great players would thrive under any circumstances, and I’m not going to assume that inferior teams will win matchups solely because they have better shooters on their roster. Certainly, if the talent level between two teams is close, then this might be a tiebreaker, but overall talent level is still going to be the driving factor in these series.

      1. Thanks, Chris for responding.

        While it is true that a transcendent player could thrive in any era – be it guys like Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, or Lebron James – but that is not true for those in the next tier or category, the all-stars who thrive in that particular era. Would Steph Curry be allowed to take over ten threes per game in the 80s? No because they would’ve beaten him up before the second quarter, knock him down a few times when he plays defense, or step on his feet before he started his jumping motion. That lends a bias towards the Nellie-ball doughnut teams of today.

        And your decision to go with modern rules is arbitrary – it is based on aesthetic reasons. Why is today any better than those in the 90s? in the 80s? 70s? 60s? The reasons you will cite are not external to the era-specific rules. You will not be able to step outside to offer an extra-ideological, objective reason.

        It’s much like writing history. The form of narrative the historian decide to tell the story is not a scientific one. It is based on literary tropes – in other words, aesthetic reasons.

        1. Interesting commentary. I can assure you that my reasoning wasn’t based on aesthetics; only the fact that in my mind, it was logical to use the current NBA rules to carry out the tournament. That’s fair to say that this reasoning is arbitrary, but I would argue that picking the rules from any era of time would be arbitrary as well. It’s very difficult to carry out tournaments like this due to these types of issues, but ultimately, you have to make a decision and live with the consequences. I’m hoping that the results reflect the fact that talent and lineup fit are the leading indicators of success.

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