Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
Today’s most interesting game looks to be in Syracuse, where the #17 Orange (9-0) host a Horizon League opponent in the #105 Cleveland State Vikings (6-4, 1-1).
The Vikings were predicted to be Horizon champions, but they haven’t had a great start, losing to Washington, Kansas St. and West Virginia, along with a heartbreaking home loss to Butler in conference play. Their wins are unimpressive, and they will really need to up their game to have a chance. Syracuse had a very impressive run in late November, beating Florida and Kansas to capture the CBE Classic, and have generally cruised through some easy games since, though they needed a stirring comeback to beat Cornell.
The reason for Cleveland State’s struggles has been fairly simple, they just don’t score much. This is mostly down to their poor shooting, as the Vikings are at 25% from behind the arc, and 66% from the line. Most of their attempts come from inside, but they still make only 45% of these. The Vikings are decent in preventing turnovers and getting offensive rebounds, but that can’t make up for their shooting troubles. Syracuse has been decent defensively, defending well outside and keeping its opponents off the line, but forcing very few turnovers. Against a struggling attack like the Vikings’, the Orange’s defense is definitely good enough to leave Cleveland St. in tough offensive straights.
Syracuse has been strong offensively, as it has been able to consistently get the ball inside for high-percentage baskets, making over 60% of its two-point shots. The Orange also move the ball around effectively and get to the line often. Cleveland St. has made up for its offensive struggles with some excellent defensive play. The Vikings are about as good at stopping shots as they are bad at taking them, and force a lot of turnovers, but they have weaknesses on this end as well, as they allow their opponents to get back a large percentage of their misses. Even in their losses, no opponent has really lit up the Viking defense, but Syracuse will be their greatest challenge to date.
The biggest question for Syracuse is the status of guard Eric Devendorf, who is facing suspension after allegedly hitting a female student. While the Judicial Review has ruled on the suspension, Devendorf is appealing, and my understanding is that until the appeal is complete, he is free to play, as he did on Saturday. Devendorf has a fairly large role in the offense that would make him tough to replace, but isn’t particularly efficient, shooting under 50% from the field and struggling with turnovers at times. Syracuse’s best guard has been sophomore Jonny Flynn, whose offensive game has blossomed this year, as he has increased his shooting percentages from two and three by nearly 7% each, and maintained his strong assist totals. The other guard who sees a lot of playing time is Andy Rautins, who is a pure three-point shooter, but hasn’t quite found the touch yet this season. Syracuse has really benefited from inside strength, as junior Paul Harris leads the team in rebounding while shooting over 50%, and 6-9 Arinze Onuaku has shot nearly 80% from the field and leads the team in blocks. Coach Boeheim has four players 6-6 or taller who also get on the floor regularly in Rick Jackson, Mookie Jones, Kristof Ongenaet and Kris Joseph, but doesn’t have a lot of guard options, which is why Devendorf’s suspension is such a critical issue for the rest of the season, though likely not for this game.
Cleveland St. put two players on the CHN preseason all-Horizon team, but only one has really stepped up so far, senior forward and team leading scorer and rebounder J’Nathan Bullock. Bullock’s shooting percentages are somewhat frightening, just 41% from the field, but he has been one of the team’s better three point shooters, and it’s reasonable to think his numbers will improve somewhat, as he is well down on last year’s percentages. The other player, guard Cedric Jackson, has done a lot of good when he wasn’t shooting, leading the Horizon with 5.1 assists and 2.9 steals per game. However, you can’t overlook shooting 30% from the field and 14% from three, which torpedo any value he creates with his ball movement. He takes a lot of shots, too, and something will have to give in either percentages or attempts for Cleveland St. to live up to expectations. Guard Norris Cole is the second-leading scorer, but has also shot poorly. The two other starters have at least been competent with their shots, but the relative roles played by guard D’Aundray Brown and center Chris Moore are fairly small. George Tandy has been an effective inside shooter of the bench, and has really stepped up in the last few games, while backup guards Eric Schiele and Jeremy Montgomery have been plagued with the same shooting woes as the starters.
Cleveland St. could potentially cause a lot of trouble for Syracuse’s attack, but I just can’t see them managing to score enough themselves to get the win over a hot Orange team. If Jackson and Bullock can start to find some kind of offensive form, the Vikings have the defensive acumen to keep it close, but based on their early results, I predict a safe Syracuse win.
Winner: Syracuse Margin: 7-12
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.