The Orange are coming off a 2-0 record in the exhibition portion of the schedule, but were not particularly impressive in their 86-73 win over Saint Rose and 94-52 victory over LeMoyne. Several defensive deficiencies were exposed against Saint Rose, and the interior play of the big men was called into question. On a positive note, the offense showed a great deal of balance with 4 SU players averaging double digit points and 4 others scoring between 7 and 9 ppg.
Demetris Nichols was the team's leading scorer last week at 18 ppg. He showed a strong outside shooting touch, connecting on 5 triples, and also hauled in 6.5 boards a game. McNamara had an outstanding scoring night against St. Rose (29 points), but put his offense on the backburner against LeMoyne. He seems to be in great shape and is poised for a big senior season. Joining Nichols and McNamara in double figures were guards Eric Devendorf (11.5 ppg) and Louie McCroskey (11.0 ppg, 8.0 rbg). While the numbers look good for this quartet of perimeter players, they also illustrate SU's lack of interior production in terms of points and rebounds.
In fairness, JR PF Terrance Roberts (7.5 ppg, 3.5 rbg) was nursing a sore knee, but he still managed to figure out a way to foul out against LeMoyne. Mookie blocked 13 shots in the two games and scored 8.0 ppg, but was singled out by head coach Jim Boeheim for his lack of positioning and rebounding on the defensive end. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the exhibition season was the play of FR C Arinze Onuaku, who showed some nice post moves and may actually be the most gifted interior scorer the team has to offer.
Regardless, this trio must improve rapidly for SU to compete as a top 25 team and advance to the championship of the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney. If the Orangemen make it to NYC, they will most likely face Bobby Knight's Texas Tech team, followed by a potential match-up against either Wake Forrest or Florida. All of these teams feature experienced, physical big men. Given the foul trouble that Watkins and Roberts have already seen this year, it is likely that Boeheim will also need quality interior minutes out of redshirt JR Matt Gorman (2.5 ppg) as well.
Getting back to the game at hand, Bethune-Cookman figures to be little more than another tune-up for the Orange. The Wildcats were 13-17 last year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and are picked to finish 6th this year. They have an explosive athlete at the point guard position in 5-10 Antonio Webb, who poured in almost 15 ppg last year. Webb, who hails from Fairfax, VA, has outstanding leaping ability and is a fairly good shooter. The other main threat on the Wildcats is 6-7 F Michael Williams, who was a double figure scorer in 04-05 and is also the leading returning rebounder.
Look for SU to play mostly man-to-man against Cliff Reed's team, as Boeheim usually reserves the zone for stronger, more athletic teams. One match-up to keep an eye on is if SU PG Josh Wright gets a chance to defend Webb. Both are diminutive players with excellent quickness and if Wright can keep Webb in check he may earn more minutes later in the season as a defensive option.
Offensively, Syracuse will continue to do what it has done in the early going, mainly run when given the chance, shoot a lot from the perimeter, and go hard to the offensive boards. This is the type of game where McCroskey will be able to overpower his man and get to the glass often, while our interior players will have huge height advantages. SU should have no problem getting past the Wildcats en route to a Wednesday game against the winner of St. Francis vs. Cornell. Final Prediction: SU 89, Bethune-Cookman 71.