Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Wednesday night presents a rivalry game in the Big East, with #22 Syracuse (18-6, 6-5 Big East) visiting #1 Connecticut (22-1, 10-1). The Orange have hit a rough patch of late, losing four of their last five games. With a resume needing one final statement victory, Syracuse will need to perform better on the defensive end of the floor if they’re to win. Syracuse is seventh in the Big East in field goal percentage defense (41.0%), and they’ll be looking to contain the conference’s second-best team when it comes to field goal percentage (48.8%). Jim Boeheim has gone away from his trademark 2-3 zone for large stretches this season, but expect a return to that philosophy with the hope that UConn will be content to fire away from the perimeter.
But it needs to be noted that the Huskies actually rank second in the Big East in three-point percentage (36.3%). While that’s still three percentage points worse than Notre Dame, sometimes you wonder if people regurgitate the “fact” that Connecticut can’t shoot because that’s the way it’s been in recent years instead of looking at the numbers. Make no mistake about it, Connecticut’s bread is buttered in the paint thanks to senior Jeff Adrien (14.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg) and junior Hasheem Thabeet (13.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg). Either by dumping the ball inside to those two or the slashing style of Jerome Dyson (13.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) head coach Jim Calhoun wants the offense directed toward the rim. Along with Dyson the players most likely to let it go from behind the arc are seniors A.J. Price and Craig Austrie.
As for the Orange, despite the high point totals in recent games they haven’t been able to get all their main weapons going at the same time. Arinze Onuaku (11.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) was rendered ineffective at Villanova due to injury, and Jonny Flynn (17.2 ppg, 5.9 apg) wasn’t much better in the 102-85 loss. When Flynn and Onuaku are at their best things open up on the perimeter for sharpshooters Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins, and developing sophomore Rick Jackson can also be effective. Connecticut’s size poses a stiff test for the Orange bigs, presenting challenges in height and length that Syracuse has not encountered this season. The stat that makes things worse for Syracuse is that the Huskies are very good at avoiding foul trouble, committing the fewest fouls in the nation.
If you’re looking for the one position where the Orange may have a definitive edge, check out the small forwards. Stanley Robinson is an athletic player but hasn’t been a major factor since returning from his first-semester hiatus. Paul Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg), nicknamed by some “Do It All Paul”, is Syracuse’s third-leading scorer and top rebounder. Despite standing just 6’4” tall the junior from Niagara Falls is a handful for opponents within fifteen feet of the basket. Robinson doesn’t have to light up the scoreboard but he’s got to hold his own at the very least. A big night for Harris could mean an upset win for Syracuse.
How will this all play out? Other than the recent stretch of games in this series that have gone the way of the Orange, Connecticut is traditionally one of the better teams in the Big East going against their zone. The Huskies commit to getting the ball inside, using the high post and short corner as entry points. In a matchup of Hall of Fame coaches, look for Connecticut to take care of business at home.
Winner: Connecticut Margin: 7-11 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Two of the Big East's top programs meet up on ESPN, and these two often provide a good show. Its always a safe bet that Syracuse won't win a road game against a top opponent.
Early Prediction: UCONN