Orangemen Prepare for Final Tune-up

The Syracuse Orangemen take to the court for the second time in three nights when they entertain the LeMoyne Dolphins in their final exhibition game at 7 PM in the Carrier Dome. Tuesday night's 86-73 win over St. Rose was quite possibly the most bizarre exhibition ever played in the Dome, as head coach Jim Boeheim was tossed from the game with 30 seconds remaining in the first half.

Associate head coach Bernie Fine took over and guided SU to an easy victory with the help of 29 points from Gerry McNamara and 13 points from Demetris Nichols.

You can bet that Boeheim is regretting Tuesday night's ejection, as he missed out on precious time to evaluate his rather young and inexperienced team. With the regular season opener against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats less than a week away, Boeheim still has a lot of work to do to finalize his early season rotations and mold his team into a coherent and responsive group.

About the only sure thing this year is that Gerry McNamara will be the heart and soul of the team. The SR All-American candidate was joined by a quartet of juniors in the starting lineup on Tuesday. It appears that Darryl Watkins, Terrance Roberts, and Demetris Nichols have largely cemented their starting roles, but outside of this trio, the rest of the playing time remains up in the air. Boeheim's main goal in tonight's game will be accessing the rest of his squad to begin figuring out how all the pieces will fit together in '05-06. 

One of the biggest question marks is the off guard position. Will Boeheim stick with junior Louie McCroskey, or go with freshman McDonald's All-American Eric Devendorf? McCroskey played a poor first half on Tuesday, but rebounded with some solid play in the second half. Devendorf made an immediate impact in the game by hitting a three and scoring on a tough drive in the paint, but then got sidetracked with foul trouble. The duo combined for 16 points, but neither made a strong claim for the starting SG position.  

Look for Devendorf to play more under control tonight, now that he has an idea of what college basketball is all about. Josh Wright, another guard who figures in the mix, will be looking to continue his strong play after finishing with 9 points and 6 assists against St. Rose. It is imperative that the Orange get improved backcourt play this year to complement McNamara. 

The other key aspect of tonight's game to pay attention to is the Matt Gorman/Arinze Onuaku battle. Gorman didn't have a particularly productive first game (0 pts, 5 reb), but Boeheim has voiced his confidence in Matt's ability to shake off the rust of last season's redshirt. Matt needs to slow himself down and let the game come to him, rather than rush his shots and passes as he did on Tuesday. 

Onuaku, who has been drawing rave reviews from his play in practice, fell victim to the freshman big man curse of bringing the ball down into the defense several times on Tuesday. He scored 3 points in total, but did not quite live up to the hype that has surrounded his early practice play. Tonight's game will go a long ways in determining who is the first Orangeman off the bench when Roberts or Watkins hacks his way into early foul trouble in regular season games. Given their collective penchant for hackery, it is possible that Boeheim will be forced to use both Gorman and Onuaku this year. 

In terms of the game on the court, LeMoyne doesn't figure to offer that much of a challenge. The Dolphins finished last year with a forgettable 11-17 record against D2 opponents, so the Orangemen should be able to have their way regardless of which personnel is on the court. Three players to watch on LeMoyne are leading returning scorer Matt Cooper (6-7 F, 14.5 ppg) and two upstate New York products Sid Pond (6-7 F) and Corey Smith (6-5 G). Pond hails from Watertown, NY and nearly averaged a double-double in ‘04-05 (11.1 ppg, 9.0 rbg). Corey Smith, the pride of Gouverneur, hit 53 three pointers on the season and should be good for 10+ points per game this year.  

LeMoyne has a little more size than St. Rose had, so tonight might be a better game to gauge the progress of the SU big men. In addition to Cooper and Pond, the Dolphins have a 7-footer in Dan Cromwell and also welcome 6-8 freshman Mike McDonough to the mix. Look for Boeheim and his boys to be more focused this time out. JB will continue with his revolving door substitution pattern and expect the players to be a little more comfortable than they were on Tuesday. Tonight's game might not be the most glamorous, but it will certainly help in deciding who get the important PT this season.


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