The Orange face what is essentially a must-win game today. A loss would leave them with a league record below 0.500, likely placing them "outside, looking in" on the NCAA tourney bubble. From here on out, SU must beat the teams it is expected to beat, and sprinkle in a few quality unexpected wins as well.
DePaul Season to Date: The Blue Demons enter the game at 13-10 with a 4-5 record in Big East play. Looking at their schedule, the first thing that jumps out is the lack of consistency that the team has shown. They have posted some very impressive victories against teams like Kansas, Wake Forest, and California, but they've also lost to teams like Bradley and Northwestern. In Big East play, they have lost to the upper division teams (Pitt, Louisville, Georgetown, West Virginia) and beat all the lower division teams (Rutgers, St. Johns, 'Nova, UConn). You can basically draw a line in the Big East standings to determine whether they will win or lose against a given foe. Unfortunately, Syracuse basically straddles that line.
DePaul's best players, without question, are Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia (6-6 SR G/F). Chandler, a 6-8 SO F, absolutely demolished the Orange last year with his mix of inside and outside play. He is a multi-dimensional player who can score by using his sheer athleticism or his varied skill set. Mejia is not the athlete that Chandler is, but he is strong ballhandler, good passer, and heady player. At 6-6, he has the size to see over the defense and he uses that to run the offense as somewhat of a point forward. Almost every DePaul offensive set runs through Mejia. He shows a good deal of poise, turning the ball over only about twice a game, which is fairly good considering that he's second on the team in assists. Mejia is also a deceptively agile player who likes to slip between defenders on the way to the basket. He has a decent mid-rang game as well, and this year he has expanded his offense to include more consistent three point-shooting.
Other players to keep an eye on are 6-4 SO G Draelon Burns and 6-6 JR F Karron Clarke. Burns is rapidly become a more potent offensive threat, and Clarke torched the Orange for 27 points on perfect three point shooting last year (5-5). On the inside, DePaul gets minutes for gigantic Keith Butler (7-1, 250 lb) and Wesley Green (6-9, 290 lbs). These guys eat up a lot of space, but neither has been much of a scoring threat this year.
Game Outlook: This game is all about PRIDE. If this Syracuse team has any of it, they will remember the pounding that they received last year in Chicago, and make a bid at paying the Blue Demons back with their own currency. With the Orange coming off a series of three losses, the most important thing they need to show today is effort and intensity. DePaul is only 3-6 on the road, so they can be bothered by foreign environments.
There is not much to add here other than the obvious. Syracuse must take care of the ball and avoid the foolish and unforced turnovers that have plagued the team since Big East play started. DePaul is among the worst teams in the Big East in forcing turnovers, so that fact bodes well for the Orange. They are also one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league, another factor that should help SU.
On paper at least, this game seems to favor the Orange. DePaul is talented, but completely inconsistent. They don't play well on the road. They don't shoot free throws well, they don't force a lot of turnovers, and they aren't strong on the offensive glass. If SU can come out and put some early points on the board, they might be able to get the crowd behind them and take the Blue Demons out of the game. Simply put, this is a must win game against a very beatable opponent. Let's hope Boeheim's charges are fired up and ready to play!