By Will Greer
The Wildcats visit the Carrier Dome for the first time ever Thursday night, trying and win their fourth straight road game in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and pick up an impressive non-conference win. Sam Brief and Will Greer will have the call on 89.3 FM starting at 5:45 CST, but until then, here are three things you should know about ‘Cuse.
The Orange are a run-and-gun, three-point-shooting squad.
Under the all-time winningest coach in Syracuse women’s hoops history, Quentin Hillsman, the Orange’s offensive game plan is centered around getting down the floor in a hurry and finding open shooters on the wing.
Last season, Syracuse made more than nine three-balls a game (eighth most in the country) and scored close to 79 points per contest (fifteenth most in the country).
Of their 11 players who play at least five minutes, ten have shot a three-pointer this season. To paraphrase what Hillsman has said before, if you can’t knock down an open three-pointer, you’re not an offensive threat.
And although Syracuse (6-0) – which is averaging close to ten made threes per game — has doubled the number of threes Northwestern (5-2) has made despite playing one fewer game, it has taken them nearly triple the amount of shots to do so. The Orange are shooting just 28 percent from downtown through six games.
The Orange return just 3 of 14 players from last year.
This is undoubtedly the golden age of Syracuse women’s basketball. The Orange have made the tournament five straight years (after dancing just four times in the program’s first 37 seasons) and went on a Cinderella run to the national title game as a No. 4 seed in 2016.
But if there’s a team that would on-paper, and at-least-semi-excusably, break the streak of five straight Big Dances, it would have to be this one. From last season’s squad that was bounced by UConn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Orange return one starter, 14 percent of scoring, and 20 percent of minutes.
And by the way, the Syracuse is having to replace two of the best players in program history – Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes – who finished first and second respectively in scoring last season and are now in the WNBA.
Of players in Hillsman’s seemingly-ten-player rotation, five are transfers and three are freshmen. The college basketball world is learning just how good this Syracuse team can be game-by-game.
Syracuse might boast the best point guard in the nation.
Her name is Tiana Mangakahia, and she’s leading the nation with 11.8 assists per game.
She’s a transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where she couldn’t play for two seasons because of eligibility issues that have been cleared by Syracuse.
And in addition to averaging close to 12 assists a night, she’s also scoring more than 13 points per game and had an eye-opening, program record-setting 17-assist performance last week against Vanderbilt.
She’s the real deal, and a Northwestern win Thursday night might be centered around slowing down the Aussie.