Penn State vs. Syracuse Preview: Seeking Redemption After Ole Miss Collapse

By Dan Smith on November 29, 2019 at 12:14 pm
Nov 19, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (11) defends Bucknell Bison guard Xander Rice (21) during the first half at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State defeated Bucknell 98-70.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse Orange
Syracuse Orange
4-2 (0-0 ACC)
7 p.m. ET – Friday, Nov. 29
Barclays Center
Brooklyn, NY
Watch Info: ESPN2
KenPom Rank: 46

The NIT Preseason Tip-Off tournament in Brooklyn was always going to be a schedule boost for Penn State, with the other three teams included being quality opponents on a similar level to this year's Nittany Lions. The momentum seemed to be on Penn State's side heading into these games, all the way up to the middle of the second half of Wednesday's game against Ole Miss. And then the floor fell out, with Penn State squandering a 21-point lead en route to a stunning 74-72 win for the Rebels.

If there was anything to be thankful for when the men's basketball team sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, it was the opportunity to beat another high quality opponent two days later, once again on national television. Legendary head coach Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange are coming off their own defeat, losing to Oklahoma State 86-72 Wednesday night. Both teams will be looking to avoid an 0-2 Thanksgiving break trip to NYC.

Projected Starters
Penn State   SYRACUSE
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. 1 Joe Girard III - 6'1" - Fr.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - So. 2 Buddy Boeheim - 6'6" - So.
Myreon Jones - 6'3" - So. 3 Elijah Hughes - 6'6" - Jr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. 4 Marek Dolezaj - 6'10" - Jr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9" - Sr. 5 Bourama Sidibe - 6'10" - Jr.

Scouting report

Syracuse's famous zone defense might have stifled Penn State team's of the past, but this year's Nittany Lions team has been moving the ball and shooting from the outside at much better rates than previous teams under head coach Patrick Chambers. That said, they are going to force turnovers and block shots on the interior. Pressure defense has gotten to the Nittany Lions this season, and they will need to be smart in getting quality looks in this one.

The scoring will come primarily from the backcourt. 6-foot-6 junior wing Elijah Hughes is scoring 19.0 points per game while shooting 42.0 percent from three. Coach's son Buddy Boeheim is adding 13.3 points per game. Freshman point guard Joe Girard is adding 10.8 points per game, while leading the team with 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. In the front court, big man Bourama Sidibe leads the team with 7.3 rebounds per game, while forward Marek Dolezaj is adding 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per, while forcing nearly two steals per game as well.

Depth is not a strength for the Orange, as only forward Quincy Guerrier and guard Brycen Goodine see any significant playing time off of the bench. Point guard Jalen Carey is dealing with a thumb injury that has vaulted Girard into a much larger role. This stands in contrast to a Penn State team comfortable playing 10-11 men on any given night.

keys to the game

  • No letdowns. Coming off of a humiliating loss to Ole Miss, Penn State needs to avoid allowing Syracuse to have huge runs that let the previous game get back into the minds of the players.
  • Using Watkins wisely. The big man was the best player on the floor against Ole Miss, and was strangely absent for most of the Rebels' big late run. It will be a very different match up facing a zone, but Watkins has a significant strength and weight advantage on the interior defense of the Orange. That could make the tight interior defense less effective.
  • Outside shooting. Effective three-point shooting ruins zone defenses. Myles Dread, Myreon Jones, and Curtis Jones should get plenty of quality looks in this game, and they need to take advantage. Forcing the defense to hedge on shooters will open up all sorts of looks for Stevens and Watkins, the team's two best players.


Nothing will feel safe with Penn State for some time after blowing a 21-point lead, for fans, players, and coaches alike. The Nittany Lions will need to play a complete game from end-to-end and close out the Orange with confidence. Maybe the key advantage for Penn State in this game is the depth that they have, something lacking for Syracuse. That could be the difference in this one. Penn State 64, Syracuse 60