Orange Travel to the RAC

Three days after its biggest win of the season – a 70-58 road victory over nationally ranked Marquette – the Syracuse Orange is back on the road to take on Rutgers. Considering the Orange has won its last five games versus the Scarlet Knights and that Rutgers lost at home to Jackson State and was blown out by North Carolina, Syracuse fans should feel good about Wednesday's game.

However, anytime Syracuse travels to Rutgers, the fans get nervous. That's because of one thing, and one thing only: The RAC. The Orange won its last game at the RAC, 86-84 behind 21 points apiece from Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick in January, 2005. However, Syracuse has lost four of seven at Rutgers over the past decade, while going 9-0 at home versus the Scarlet Knights over that stretch. No matter what the state of the Rutgers basketball program looks like, it is never easy for the Orange to win at the RAC.

Rutgers owns an 8-7 record this season and has split their two Big East Conference games so far, including a 54-42 win over Cincinnati on Sunday night. The Scarlet Knights have won seven of their last 10 games, though the list of teams they have beaten is far from impressive. Apart from Princeton, the list of Rutgers victims includes teams like St. Thomas Aquinas, New Hampshire, Lehigh, and South Carolina State.

Meanwhile, Rutgers has fallen to the likes of Bradley, Miami (OH), Temple, and a struggling Seton Hall team this year, and is ranked near the bottom of the Big East in virtually every offensive category, including a team scoring average of 61.9 points-per-game and a field goal percentage of 41%. Additionally, the Scarlet Knights have only dished out 139 assists against 213 turnovers for a ratio of roughly 9-to-14.

Needless to say, it's a tough time for Rutgers despite their current winning record. In the recent win over Cincinnati, four of the teams five starters played at least 32 minutes, and the team got a whopping two points from its bench. Versus Seton Hall things weren't much different, with only six of the team's 72 points coming from non-starters.

Of the starters, sophomore J.R. Inman (6-9, 220) has been the most reliable performer, leading Rutgers with averages of 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds-per-game. Still, the big man is shooting just 43.9% from the field and has knocked down 16-of-48 three pointers. Inman shoots a solid 72.3% from the charity stripe. Against Cincinnati, Inman made only 3-of-11 shots en route to eight points, but grabbed nine rebounds.

Marquis Webb (6-5, 205 and a former teammate of Mookie Watkins at Paterson Catholic) is the only other Scarlet Knight averaging double-figures in the scoring column, putting up 10.2 ppg. However, the senior is hitting just 36.4% of his shots from the field, but leads the team with 24 made three pointers at a 35.8% clip. Webb is also shooting 82.5% from the free throw line. Webb knocked down all four of his three point attempts against Cincinnati.

Sophomore swingman Jaron Griffin (6-7, 210) averages 9.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, but falls into the team trend of dismal shooting. Griffin is hitting only 37.1% from the field and making less than 30% of his three point attempts.

Anthony Farmer (6-1, 190) runs the show for Rutgers, dishing out a team-best 43 assists this year but also turning the ball over 37 times. Farmer, a sophomore, is averaging 9.3 points on 41% shooting, and has knocked down 12-of-34 triples (35.3%). Farmer's free throw shooting is not exactly something you would like from a point guard who logs as many minutes as he does, making only 55% of his attempts. Farmer leads the team with 20 steals.

Adrian Hill rounds out the starting five, which has remained the same virtually all season. Hill (6-8, 245) is posting averages of 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and is one of the few Scarlet Knights making more than half of his shots with a 50.7% clip from the floor. Hill is decent from the stripe as well, making 68.3% of his attempts. Against Cincinnati, the senior made 4-of-5 shots to finish with 13 points and six rebounds.

As alluded to, the Rutgers bench is virtually non-existent. Only three players see much time, and when they do it isn't much, and their productivity is very low. Courtney Nelson (6-1, 180) gets the most time off the bench, but is shooting a woeful 25% from the field this season, and has also knocked down only 7-of-28 trifectas. Nelson averages 3.3 points-per-game.

Ollie Bailey (6-7, 230) is the top scorer off the bench, contributing 3.9 points (as well as 2.1 rebounds) in just 10 minutes-per-game. The junior is another big body for Rutgers to throw at the Syracuse frontline, and he may be called on more than usual to match up against Terrence Roberts and Mookie Watkins. Freshman Hamady N'Diaye (6-11, 235) should also expect to be called on to bang with Watkins. N'Diaye is averaging 3.0ppg, but has a team best 24 blocks while only playing 14 minutes-per-game.

Rutgers is in bad shape despite coming off a conference win over Cincinnati, with very little depth and poor overall shooting touch. The Scarlet Knights don't fare any better from outside the arc than they do inside, hitting just under 32% of their three pointers collectively. It is a team that turns the ball over relatively frequently, has limited presence off the bench, and struggles mightily to score.

In other words, it is a game that the Orange should be able to win handily. The only thing that might keep it close is, of course, the RAC. For whatever reason, that little basketball facility that gets less than 4,000 fans per game gives Syracuse fits. If the Orange can overcome the apparent curse it often encounter when it travels to Rutgers, there's no reason a 20-point win shouldn't be in the cards.

For that to happen, though, Eric Devendorf needs to continue his hot play of late, and Demetris Nichols has to start to more closely resemble the dynamic scorer he was in between sub par performances against Wichita State and Pitt. In his last two games, the senior from Boston has made just 9-of-31 shots overall and 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. Hopefully, his huge step back three to seal the Marquette win will help him maintain his confidence and allow him to get back his shooting stroke.

Returning to New Jersey for the final time in either of their careers will hopefully energize both Roberts and Watkins. Watkins has been outstanding lately, and there is no reason to believe he will not continue to play the best basketball of his career against the Scarlet Knights.

Roberts, on the other hand, is still trying to shake the rust off after missing some time due to injury. His performance against Marquette was a big step up from his play against Pitt, as he made 3-of-4 shots from the field and, amazingly, both of his free throw attempts en route to eight points and six boards. If he continues to steadily improve as he gets all the way back to 100%, it would be a huge boost for the depleted Orange roster.

Prediction: The RAC notwithstanding, Syracuse looks to be superior to Rutgers at every position and in every facet of the game. The Orange is coming off a big win on the road and must be hungry to prove they are better than their four losses indicate. Look for Devendorf to continue his steadily improving offensive play to post another 15-20 point game, and look for Nichols to knock down a few threes in matching Devendorf's point total. Syracuse should come up with a win, and in keeping with the 15-20 point trend, look for that to be the margin of victory as well.

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