A Look At Syracuse

The Pitt men's basketball team faces its second Big East opponent, Syracuse, Saturday at noon at the Carrier Dome, and the Sports Xchange takes a look at the Orange.

Not long after Syracuse won its 12th game of the season with a 92-60 shellacking of Oakland, coach Jim Boeheim shook his head and said: "Wait 'til the Big East starts."

"We don't know anything yet," Boeheim added. "We know we're good enough to win these games. We don't know anything about our team until we get into the conference and see how everything goes."

After an 80-73 win at Seton Hall to improve to 13-0, Syracuse is home against Pittsburgh (11-2, 1-0 Big East). The Panthers defeated DePaul in their Big East opener, 65-52.

Syracuse still has one non-conference game remaining. The Orange (13-0, 1-0) plays Memphis at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 6, but conference play marks a new beginning.

While Syracuse has flown up the national rankings, rising from Others Receiving Votes to No. 5 for the last three weeks, Pitt has flown under the national radar. The Panthers only two losses have come against Texas and Indiana.

Pitt boasts a steady offense led by Ashton Gibbs, a sophomore guard who averages 16.9 points a game. Guard Bradley Wanamaker is second on the team in scoring at 12.8 ppg.

Pitt can't match Syracuse point for point.

Wesley Johnson leads the Orange in scoring at 16.8 points per game, but he's one of six Orange players who are averaging 9.5 points or more this season. Syracuse ranks first in the Big East in scoring at 88.3 points per game while Pitt ranks 15th at 66.2 a game.

SYRACUSE 80, SETON HALL 73: Syracuse survived 20 turnovers and Jeremy Hazell's 38-point performance to defeat Seton Hall. Syracuse junior Wes Johnson scored 20 points and grabbed 19 rebounds for the Orange. Johnson scored 13 of his points in the second half.

The fifth-ranked Orange improved to 13-0 for the season while winning its Big East Conference opener. Seton Hall dropped to 9-3, losing its second Big East home game. The Pirates also lost to No. 6 West Virginia in overtime. Hazell made 6-of-15 shots from 3-point range.

Syracuse got 16 points from sophomore Kris Joseph. The reserve forward made 8 of his 9 free throw attempts. Seton Hall's Herb Pope contributed 15 points and 17 boards.

Syracuse trailed 57-51 after Pope converted a loud dunk with 12:55 left in the game.

The Orange then went on a 15-0 run with Johnson leading the way.

NOTES, QUOTES --Given a second chance, the Orangemen have made a positive first impression on the Big East media.

The Syracuse Post-Standard ran its own Big East preseason poll, which featured Villanova as the most popular choice to win the title, followed by West Virginia. The Orange came in sixth. But when the newspaper re-ran the poll with 14 of the same writers in mid-December, Syracuse was on top.

Don't blame the writers too much for picking the team sixth initially, even though Syracuse enters the Big East schedule ranked No. 5 in the entire country. The team wasn't ranked in the preseason Top 25 poll but has emerged as one of the game's biggest surprises with three victories over Top 25 teams -- California, North Carolina and Florida -- away from the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome.

Wesley Johnson deserves a lot of credit here. Most thought the Iowa State transfer would have an instant impact, but not enough to overcome the loss of Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf during the offseason. Not only has Johnson starred, he's been arguably the best player in the Big East in non-conference play, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and highlight film-worthy plays.

More surprising than that is the team's newfound emphasis on the past. Even without Flynn, one of the best point guards in the country a year ago, the Orange are racking up assists early. Syracuse is playing the most unselfish basketball in recent memory, and the result is a lot of good shots.

Syracuse led the nation in field goal percentage heading into Big East play, making 55.3 percent of its shots in non-conference play. That's a big reason the team has been so good early, and why it's apparently now the favorite among Big East writers to win the league.

--Syracuse was leading the country in assists, averaging 22.5 per game heading into the start of Big East play. Five different players average two or more assists per game, with Scoop Jardine and Andy Rautins each dishing out more than five a night.

--The Orange's 13-game win streak to start the season marked the program's best in a decade. It's the most wins in a row at the beginning of the year since the 1999-2000 squad began the year with 19 wins in a row.

JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Jim Boeheim is not one to have a big rotation just for the sake of playing a lot of guys. That's great if you're one of the top seven players on the roster, but not so great for everyone else. There have already been issues this season with Mookie Jones, the talented redshirt freshman who hasn't been happy with his playing time, and roster management will once again be a challenge for Syracuse's Hall of Fame coach.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think Eric (Devendorf) and Jonny (Flynn) were more offensive minded. They wanted to score. They were looking to score more. Our guards can score more. But they look to pass the ball." -- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP: What's not to like about a 13-0 start? Syracuse used an unselfish attack led by impact transfer Wesley Johnson to rocket into the top five in both major polls and emerge as one of the favorites to win the Big East. Three of the wins came away from home, knocking off California, North Carolina (a butt-kicking), and Florida.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Wes Johnson, F Rick Jackson, C Arinze Onuaku, G Brandon Triche, G Andy Rautins. Key Subs -- F Kris Joseph, G Scoop Jardine, F Mookie Jones, F DaShonte Riley, F James Southerland.

GAME REVIEW: Syracuse 75, St. Francis (N.Y.) 51 Syracuse 85, St. Bonaventure 72 Syracuse 92, Oakland 60 Syracuse 80, Seton Hall 73 GAME PREVIEW: vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday, Jan. 2 vs. Memphis, Wednesday, Jan. 6 vs. South Florida, Sunday, Jan. 10 at Rutgers, Wednesday, Jan. 13

ON THE SPOT: The Orange committed 20 turnovers against Seton Hall, including a combined 10 by guards Andy Rautins and Brandon Triche.

ROSTER REPORT: --Freshman point guard Brandon Triche scored a season-high 27 points despite playing just 20 minutes in the win over Oakland. He was within reach of Carmelo Anthony's freshman record of 33 points, set in the 2003 NCAA semifinals against Texas.

--Since scoring 16 points against Florida, senior guard Andy Rautins has been quiet offensively, averaging just 8.7 points in the last four games.

--F Wes Johnson's 19-point, 11-rebound game against Oakland was his third double-double in Syracuse's last four games.

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