Orange - It's What's After Dinner

It's been over five years since KU lost an 81-78 heartbreaking national championship game to Syracuse on April 7, 2003 in New Orleans.

Gone from those teams are Orangemen standouts Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick and Jayhawk stars Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison.

Syracuse (4-0) and Kansas (3-0) now meet for the first time since that dramatic NCAA final tonight in the championship game of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Tipoff is 9:15 p.m. (CST) on ESPN2.

Syracuse is coming off an 89-83 victory over Florida on Monday night in the CBE semifinals, while KU whipped Washington, 73-54. The Orangemen had five players in double figures, led by sophomore guard Jonny Flynn and junior forward Paul Harris with 18 points each. Harris also grabbed 11 boards. Junior guard Andy Rautins added 15 points while junior forward Arinze Onuaku notched a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

The Orangemen shot 51.7 percent from the field and 40 percent beyond the arc (8-20), while outrebounding Florida, 40-34.

Anthony is now an NBA superstar,  but Syracuse has a new star in the making with Flynn, the co-BIG EAST Conference Rookie of the Year last season and a Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 selection. Flynn leads the team with 20.0 points per game and 19 assists.

Onuaku is second in scoring at 14.0 points per game, while also ranking second in rebounding (7.5 rpg). Senior guard Eric Devendorf averages 13.8 points, followed by Harris at 12 points per game and a team-high 8.8 boards. Rautins is the Orangemen’s fifth-leading scorer at 8.8 points per game, and leads the team with nine three-pointers.

Rautins, who missed last season with a knee injury, is dangerous beyond the arc. He shot five of nine from three-point range last night against Florida and his 67 three-pointers in 2006-07 ranks as the third-best sophomore total in school history.

Syracuse is a high-scoring team (84.0 ppg) which has shot at least 50 percent in all four games. The Orangemen also boast a physical and strong rebounding squad, outrebounding foes 41.8 to 31.5.

This is a battle of two college basketball heavyweights. KU is third in all-time NCAA Division I wins with 1,943, while Syracuse ranks fifth with 1,729 victories. The KU-Syracuse series is tied at 2-2 with three of the four meetings coming in the NCAA Tournament.

KU coach Bill Self knows it will be a challenge and huge test for his young Jayhawks.

“They’re really big and long and we’re going to have to play a lot bigger than we did tonight against them,” said Self, whose Jayhawks were outrebounded by Washington, 43-34.

“People are talking they may have the best point guard in the country (Flynn) and I’m not going to argue that. I think our guy (Sherron Collins) is pretty good, and I think that can be a great matchup with Flynn and Collins going at it.”

“They can shoot it,” Self added. “Devendorf, we know how well he shoots it. Rautins was on fire tonight. I think he made five (threes) the first half. We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight.”

Long known as a strong 2-3 zone team, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is playing more man defense this season.

“He’s been doing this (coaching) a long time,” Self said of the Naismith Hall of Famer, who’s won 775 career games  “Trust me, he knows what he’s doing. He’ll play to his personnel. He’ll play some zone, there’s no doubt about that. We worked against it, but we can’t simulate that length in practice working zone offense. It will be interesting to see how we react against that.”

While it’s still November, this is a huge early season game for both teams.

“Our guys will be jacked up to play, just like Syracuse’s guys,” Self said.

And this will also be a rematch of the 2003 NCAA finals. While the Jayhawks were just in seventh or eighth grade in 2003, Self said he’ll still tell his team about KU’s loss to Syracuse five years ago before game time.

“It’s not going to be the reason we’re motivated to play,” Self said. “But I think from a fans’ perspective, Syracuse-Kansas should be a pretty big game.”

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