Time: 9 p.m.
Location: Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
Syracuse 1 (No. 1 Big East)
Connecticut 23 (No. 5 Big East)
Line: Syracuse -3½ (O/U 129)
Syracuse Players to Watch: F Kris Joseph, 6-7 Sr. (14 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.4 spg); G Scoop Jardine, 6-2 Sr. (8.7 ppg, 5 apg, 1.4 spg); F C.J. Fair, 6-8 So. (9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.2 spg). Fair has scored in double-figures in Syracuse’s last four games, including a 21-point performance in Sunday’s 74-64 win over Rutgers. Fair has made 21 of his last 38 shots from the field and is 18 for 21 from the charity stripe in his last four outings.
Connecticut Players to Watch: F Jeremy Lamb, 6-5 So. (17.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 48.2% FG); G Shabazz Napier, 6-1 So. (12.7 ppg, 5.8 apg, 1.7 spg); G Ryan Boatright, 6-0 Fr. (10.2 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg). Lamb, who ranks third in the Big East in scoring, had the best game of his career in Monday’s 73-70 win over Villanova with 32 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists. His previous season-high was 30 points in a 70-57 season-opening win over Columbia.
Storylines: The Orange can clinch the Big East title outright with their 16th Big East win and their ninth straight victory overall. The defending national champion Huskies, meanwhile, needed a come-from-behind overtime win over 11-16 Villanova to avoid their eighth loss in 10 games. UConn appears to be on the verge of missing out on an opportunity to defend their crown.
Keys: UConn coach Jim Calhoun is scheduled to have back surgery on Monday and will miss the game. George Blaney continues to fill in. Syracuse has perhaps the deepest talent in the country with 10 players averaging at least 2.5 points per game. The Orange are second in the Big East in scoring (76.1 points per game is behind only Marquette’s 76.9) and they lead the league in scoring margin (plus-15.8), field goal percentage (47.2), steals (9.9, which is third nationally), blocked shots (7.2), turnover margin (plus-6.72, leads the nation) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5-to-1, second nationally). UConn is second in the Big East in field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 38.3 percent, but the Huskies are last in 3-point defense, allowing 35.2 percent. One advantage Connecticut may have is on the boards. UConn has a plus-4.3 rebounding margin while the Orange have been out-rebounded by their opponents this season. However, Syracuse averages 12.8 offensive boards to 12.3 for the Huskies. This is the second meeting in 14 days between the Orange and the Huskies. Syracuse pounded UConn, 85-67 on Feb. 11. The Orange shot 59.3 percent from the field and held Connecticut to 44 percent. Jardine led Syracuse with 21 points and six assists. Syracuse leads the all-time series 52-36 over the Huskies and has won four of the last five showdowns. However, the Orange have never won at Gampel Pavilion. Syracuse is 8-1 in true road games this season and 10-1 away from the Carrier Dome. The Huskies have won 13 of their 16 home games but are 2-3 in their last five at Gampel.
The Bottom Line: Everything about this game indicates that Syracuse will beat UConn into submission. So why are the Orange only a 3½-point favorite? That’s curious, but it’s still hard not to take Syracuse big.
The Pick: Syracuse 74, Connecticut 55