Pregame: Syracuse vs. Charlotte

The #14 Syracuse Orange will take on the Charlotte 49ers on Wednesday evening in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse enters the game with a 4-0 mark on the early season, while the 49ers come in with an even 1-1 record. This game marks the 2nd time in 4 years that Bobby Lutz' team has played Syracuse. Charlotte's last trip to the Dome resulted in a 96-92 victory on the opening day of the 2003-04 season.

The last Syracuse vs. Charlotte game was somewhat of a shock. Syracuse was playing its first game after winning the National Championship in 2003 and was expected to once again contend for a Final Four berth. Although the team would eventually make it to the Sweet 16, the opening day loss to Charlotte served as a warning of one the team's biggest shortcomings – namely the ability to defend the perimeter.

Charlotte raced out to a huge 18 point lead thanks to some insanely hot perimeter shooting from G Brandon Plavich. Gerry McNamara led a late charge to cut the deficit to 3 points with under 30 seconds to play, but the 49ers held on to win. McNamara connected on 8 triples on the evening, but was bested by Plavich, who knocked down a Carrier Dome record 10 three pointers.

There is little doubt that the seniors on this year's team will have payback in mind, as Roberts, Watkins, and Nichols were all playing their first game for SU on that evening.

This year's Charlotte squad has opened the season by splitting their first two games. The 49ers garnered an impressive victory over Hofstra in their season opener, but then stumbled against North Texas a few days later. The 88-82 victory over Hofstra was catalyzed by dual 26 point efforts from guards DeAngelo Alexander and Leemire Goldwire.

Alexander, a 6-5 guard, played against the Orange previously, but not while wearing a Charlotte uniform. He began his career at Oklahoma and was a member of the 2002-03 team that SU beat to move into the Final Four. He is a big guard at 6-5 and uses his height to shoot over smaller defenders. Last season he hit 96 three pointers.

Junior Goldwire is the team's other main scorer. A 5-11 PG, he is not quite the shooter that Alexander is, but he has good speed in the open court and can take the ball to the basket as well.

Up front, the 49ers play a pair of 6-9 forwards in EJ Drayton and Courtney Williams. Neither is a prolific scorer, but Drayton is a beast of a rebounder. He has hauled in 26 boards in only two games this year, so it will be fun to see him go at it against Terrence Roberts, who is averaging an impressive 11.5 rpg himself.

The other main contributors for Charlotte are Carlos Williams, a 6-1 G, and Antown Coleman, a 6-7 forward. Bobby Lutz plays a lot of three guard sets, so look for 6-4 G Ian Anderson to get minutes off the bench as well.

This is a pretty talented Charlotte team that is expected to challenge for an NCAA birth out of the Atlantic-10. The core of Drayton, Goldwire, and Alexander gives Lutz a solid group to build around. Each of these players is capable of giving Syracuse problems. The match-up between Goldwire and Josh Wright may serve as a barometer for Wright's future playing time.

Alexander will also be a difficult match-up for the Orange because he is adept at hitting from the perimeter as well as getting to the foul line. In his last game, he took 16 free throws, connecting on 13. However, he often falls into the role of "no-conscience gunner" and can be harassed into poor shooting nights. He was 5-22 from the floor in the loss to North Texas. If SU plays man-to-man defense tonight, look for Boeheim to give this tough assignment to either Demetris Nichols or Paul Harris.

Expect to see SU once again open the game in man-to-man defense, with the zone held in reserve if the team has troubles. Syracuse played almost exclusively man-to-man in the exhibitions, but has had problems remaining focused during real games. In particularly, the backcourt defense of Eric Devendorf and Josh Wright has been exposed as below average at best.

On the plus side, the zone seems to already be in mid-season form. Syracuse is holding opponents to under 40% shooting from the field, and Boeheim has been able to switch up zone looks by moving the inexorable Paul Harris from the baseline to the top of the zone. Boeheim has also used 6-8 forwards Mike Jones and Demetris Nichols up top from time to time. The result has been an 8 rebound per game average from Harris, who is simply a manchild on the boards, coupled with improved perimeter defense with Nichols' ability to get out on shooters.

Regardless of what type of defense the ‘Cuse plays in the game, they will need to remain focused. Charlotte likes to score in transition and they put up about 80 ppg on average. Syracuse should have an advantage on the offensive end, as the 49ers have struggled to defend this year, giving up nearly 50% shooting from the field.

Prediction: In the end, look for SU's more diversified offensive attack to emerge with Devendorf and Nichols leading 4 or 5 players in double figures. Charlotte plays close for the first 25 minutes or so, but the defensive intensity of Paul Harris sparks a second-half SU run that allows the Orange to pull out a 91-82 victory.

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