In tonight's game, the Orange will be facing a team that has struggled mightily over the last month. The Bonnies started the season with a respectable 3-2 record, but begin a downward spiral at the end of November and have not been able to bounce out of it. They have lost games to the likes of Canisius, Albany, Hampton, and Boston University, so it's not like they are losing to the best teams in the country. They enter the game ranked #318 in the Pomeroy ratings (a close approximation to the RPI).
Syracuse, on the other hand, comes in ranked #43, good for 9th best in the Big East. This relatively low ranking in non-conference play means that the Orange will have to rack up a significant number of wins in Big East play to garner an at large big to the NCAA tournament. Any win total under double digits will put the Orange squarely on the tourney bubble.
But Big East play is still a few days away, and tonight's game against St. Bonaventure is what the team should be focusing on. This game should be a cakewalk, as the Bonnies are completely undermanned in relation to the Orange.
The Bonnies are a poor offensive team, shooting only 40% from the floor and scoring only 65 points per game on the season. They do have pretty decent size with 3 forwards over 6-7 that all see significant playing time. The best of these players is Paul Williams, a 6-10 F from St. Patrick's in NJ. He is putting up 12.4 ppg and is the team's best rebounder at 9.1 boards per contest.
The other big forwards are 6-8 Michael Lee and 6-7 Tyler Benson. Lee also averages 12.4 ppg and is relatively reliable on the glass (nearly 6 rpg). Benson, despite his height, has posted one of the most improbable stats I've seen this year – EVERY ONE of his 37 shot attempts have come from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, he's only connected on 11 of them, much to coach Anthony Soloman's chagrin.
The three key backcourt players are Fereti Zarryon, A.J. Hawkins, and Tyler Relph. Zarryon, an Australian import, is the team's best scorer from the wing. He takes more than half his shot attempts from beyond the arc and has already canned 26 triples this year. Hawkins averages a tad under 10 points per game, but does most of his damage slashing to the basket. Ralph, a transfer from West Virginia, is the team's best perimeter shooter but has not blossomed into the playmaking role that was predicted when he graduated from McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester four years ago. The team's top assist man is part-time starter Jermaine Calvin, a 5-10 JR PG from Phoenix, AR.
The Orange should have no problems dispatching the Bonnies as long as they take care of the defensive glass. Paul Williams is a very good offensive rebounder, so SU will have to identify where he is and keep him from getting putback opportunities. The Bonnies only have two reliable three-point shooters, so look for Boeheim to work the zone for major minutes tonight.
The biggest key will be to continue working out the rotations and roles of each player. At this point, only Nichols and Watkins (and to a lesser extent Josh Wright) seem to have settled into the roles that they will play against Big East teams. The rest of the team seems up in the air. It will be incumbent upon Boeheim to try to find the right pieces to mesh tonight, because Pitt looms large in the future. Can this Orange squad settle into a rhythm and develop the type of chemistry it will need for double-digit Big East wins? Tune in tonight for their last tune-up!