The catch? Syracuse (14-3, 4-2) will be without sophomore point guard Billy Edelin for the second straight game who is not playing for personal reasons for an indefinite duration.
"It's going to be tough, but it's just something we've got to get through," junior forward Hakim Warrick said. "We've just got to come together more as a team."
Edelin's 14.4 points per game and leadership at the point puts Syracuse at a major disadvantage against the team that beat them twice last season, even with Carmelo Anthony leading the Orangemen. Connecticut (17-3, 5-1), on the other hand, returns nearly their entire squad from last season, minus Tony Robertson, but has added one of the top freshmen in the country in Charlie Villanueva.
Connecticut also sports two pre-season All-Americans and player of the year candidates in Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon; two guys who know how to play against Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense.
Okafor (18.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.9 bpg) and Gordon (17.4 ppg, 5.0 apg) did not have big games against Syracuse last season, but the attention the zone is forced to give them creates opportunities for their more than capable teammates. Villanueva (11.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Denham Brown (12.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) provide plenty of offensive support, along with recently explosive sophomore Rashad Anderson, who pumped in a career-high 26 points against Virginia Tech, and again led the Huskies with 16 points against Boston College.
Meanwhile, the Orangemen are still searching for offensive support for Warrick and Gerry McNamara, especially without Edelin.
McNamara will have to play the point for the second straight game, the position he started at all of last season, but then mostly played the off-guard once Edelin returned from a 12-game suspension.
The change may have been what McNamara needed as he went off for 26 points, on 7-of-17 shooting, including six from downtown. In fact, Syracuse's entire offense found life against Virginia Tech.
Bouncing back from the embarrassing 66-45 loss to No. 7/9 Pittsburgh, the Orangemen answered coach Jim Boeheim's call for a more productive offense. They shot 52.6 percent from the field, compared to 27.3 percent last Saturday against Pitt.
The search for another offensive option was also answered by an unlikely source; freshman forward Demetris Nichols. Nichols tallied 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 27 minutes. Josh Pace also bounced back with 12 points, after scoring just five against Pitt.
Still, without Edelin, most of the offensive pressure will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Warrick (19.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and McNamara (17.1 ppg).
In order for Syracuse to win, its two All-American candidates will need to outplay Connecticut's. Even then victory is not guaranteed. Anthony scored 29 points against the Huskies last season in Connecticut and they still prevailed.
"This is big," Warrick said. "But every game is big. We know what we need to come out and do and we just need to do it."
Connecticut is 15-1 at home this season. Syracuse has won 43 of the 70 games the teams have played, including 17 of 29 meetings in Connecticut.
The game, which promises to be high scoring, featuring the two top scoring teams in the BIG EAST (Syracuse 79.0 ppg, Connecticut 82.8 ppg), tips of at 7 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN.
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