Orange Begin Title Defense

The Syracuse Orangemen begin defense of their 2003 NCAA Championship with a first-round matchup against Brigham Young in Denver, Colo., on Thursday, March 18.

The Orangemen who finished the season with a 21-7 record, earned a fifth seed while BYU (21-8) is seeded 12th in the Phoenix Region.

The Orangemen and the Cougars will tip-off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Maryland-UTEP game which begins at 10:40 a.m. MT (12:40 EST). The winners of the two games will meet in the second round of the tournament on Saturday, March 20 at either 3:40 MT (5:40 EST) or 6:10 MT (8:10 EST).

The Orangemen and the Cougars have met previously four times with Syracuse winning all four meetings. However, the two teams have not squared off since SU posted a, 77-73, triumph on Dec. 23, 1968.

"Judging by the reaction of BYU I think they look forward to playing the defending national champs," Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara said. "We also have to look at it like we won it last year and we have to prove that there was a reason that we won last year and we have to prove that to ourselves.

"A lot of people already counted us out," he added. "We have to go to Denver with the purpose of repeating and if you don't approach it that way then you've already lost."

Syracuse heads into the tournament having won five of their last six outings, including victories over nationally-ranked Pittsburgh (49-46 in overtime) and Connecticut (67-56). Syracuse, seeded fourth in last week's BIG EAST Tournament, was bounced in its opener with Boston College, 57-54.

Syracuse has three starters back from last year's championship club - junior forward Hakim Warrick (19.6 ppg., 8.8 rpg.), junior center Craig Forth (5.8 ppg., 5.4 rpg.), and sophomore guard Gerry McNamara (16.2 ppg., 2.6 rpg.). Junior guard Josh Pace (9.9 ppg., 5.5 rpg.),who was a valuable reserve last season, has started all 28 games this season. Freshman forward Demetris Nichols (3.8 ppg., 2.1 rpg.) has started SU's last 12 games.

Warrick and McNamara earned All-BIG EAST honors in 2003-04. Warrick was the named to the first team and McNamara was picked to the second team. Both players were also selected to the USBWA All-District II team.

BYU is 21-8 and has won nine of its last 10 games. The Cougars finished second in the Mountain West Conference behind league champion Air Force (22-6). BYU is led by Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year, Rafael Araujo, who is averaging a double-double (18.2 ppg, 10 rpg). Mike Hall was named the Mountain West's Defensive Player of the Year. He is contributing 12.7 points per outing.

SU has a 46-28 record in NCAA Tournament play, a record that covers 28 appearances dating back to 1957. Coach Jim Boeheim, who has taken 23 of his 28 teams into the NCAAs, owns a 38-21 record in NCAA postseason games. He ranks seventh on the all-time NCAA Division I Tournament win ledger. Boeheim has compiled a 19-3 record in first-round tournament clashes.

"We've been challenged all year," Boeheim said. "We've had as tough a schedule as I think we've ever played. I think we're as well-prepared as we could be.

"Everything we did last year we've been very proud of. It's obviously been a great thing, and for a little bit longer we're going to be the defending national champions. We've got to try to extend that for as long as we can."

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