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St. John's vs. Syracuse: Q&A with Michael Burke of Nunes Magician

St. John's will face a stiff test Sunday against a strong ACC foe: Syracuse.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

St. John's is coming off two straight wins against the likes of St. Francis Brooklyn and Niagara, but on Sunday, the stakes will be raised against Syracuse, a team that was ranked in the top 15 in the country last week. To learn more about the Orange, we spoke with Michael Burke of Nunes Magician (Syracuse's SB Nation Blog) who gave some great insight into a team that is capable of making noise in the ACC.

After an impressive showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Syracuse has lost two out of it's last three games. What weakness has shown up over the last few outings for the Orange?

In the Battle 4 Atlantis, Syracuse got crazy-hot from 3 and just shot teams out of the building. But in losses to Georgetown and Wisconsin, the Orange just went cold from beyond the arc. This team takes a lot of 3-pointers. When they fall, Syracuse will usually win. But when they don't, SU will be in trouble.

Jim Boeheim began his nine-game suspension against Georgetown and is unable to have any contact with his assistants during the time off. How is the team responding to Mike Hopkins and what challenges does he face in the next few weeks as the team gets set for ACC conference play? 

Hopkins has been around the program so long that nothing has really changed. He's the head coach-in-waiting for a reason; he knows what he's doing. But in terms of challenges, he's probably going to try to get this group rebounding the ball better. Syracuse has been getting crushed on the boards this season, something that could come back to bite in conference play.

It seems like Michael Gbinije has been at Syracuse forever but this season he has taken a huge step forward as one of the more improved players in the country. What is it about Gbinije that stands out and how has he adjusted handling the ball more this season? 

He's just such an all-around player. He's a phenomenal shooter, he can get to the basket, he distributes and he plays really solid defense. It's not so much one thing as it is just him being so consistent in all aspects of his game. 
To answer your second question: He's done just fine playing point guard, but I'm still of the mindset that he's a little better playing off the ball. If backup point guard Kaleb Joseph can give Syracuse more minutes moving forward, that would allow Gbinije to shift to the wing sometimes, which would make him even more effective.

Is there one under the radar player that the St. John's should watch out for on Sunday? And why? 

Tyler Lydon. He's a freshman that not many people expected to make immediate contributions, but he's been the Orange's second best player thus far. He's so crucial to their success because even from the power forward or center spot, he operates from the perimeter on offense, which is very important for the Orange's spacing. It opens up driving lanes and leads to open shots that SU doesn't get when he's not on the court. 

Finally, what is your prediction for this match-up?

I'll say Syracuse 70, St. John's 58. The Orange control the game and make a decent percentage of their 3s, but it's not a blowout.