Syracuse is back at it tonight after dispatching Siena 97-89 in the first round of the Preseason NIT last night. Tonight's opponent, St. Joseph's, should be even more of a challenge than Siena was. The Hawks are expected to challenge for Atlantic-10 supremacy this year behind the strength of their very large and very good frontline.
The cornerstone on the interior is former St. Anthony's star Ahmad Nivins. At 6-9, Nivins has the size to effectively attack the SU interior defenders. He poured in 16.6 ppg last to with almost 8 boards.
Joining Nivins up front is Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson. Calathes, the older brother of 2007 McDonald's All-American Nick Calathes, is a multi-dimensional talent. He can handle, pass, and shoot like a guard, but at 6-10 he's also got the height to rebound and defend. Last season he stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, 7 boards, and 3 assists on average.
Ferguson is not nearly as skilled and dynamic as Nivins and Calathes, but he's still good for double digits scoring and about 5 boards per game. He has a well-developed midrange jumper, but he doesn't get to the line much for a 6-8 power player.
Nivins and Calathes combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds in St. Joseph's 86-66 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Monday night. Keeping tabs on Calathes, who knocked down 3 triples yesterday, will be an important job for the Orange defenders. The zone also needs to be aware of Arvydas Lidzius, a 6-9 forward with a smooth three-point shooting stroke.
To complement his impressive array of frontcourt talent, Phil Martelli brought in Tasheed Carr, a 6-4 PG transfer from Iowa State. Carr posted a double-double last night with 11 points and 12 assists. His battle with Jonny Flynn should be one of the highlights of tonight's game.
Orange Keys for Victory
1) Defend the Post. Last night the interior defense was borderline dreadful. A similar effort tonight and the Orange won't be making that trip to New York.
2)Locate the Shooters. The Hawks hit on 11 of 21 three point attempts last night, with seven different players knocking down at least triple. Calathes and Lidzius are St. Joe's most dangerous shooters, and they both have the size to shoot over the SU zone if it proves to be too passive.
3) Take Care of the Ball. This point is pretty much a no-brainer. Syracuse somehow managed to beat Siena despite a horrific -14 turnover margin. Something tells me they wouldn't be so lucky with a repeat performance.
4) Get Donte Greene Going. Greene is an excellent offensive talent, but he needs to consistent touches during the course of the evening to stay focused. He should have a size or quickness advantage depending on who he's matched up against. It would be nice to see him force the action and try to get to the line more often.
5) Get Some Bench Production. It was more than a little troubling to see all 5 SU starters log at least 32 minutes last night. Will the Orange have the energy to get up and down the court for 40 minutes tonight? Could the transition defense suffer even more? Syracuse will need some productive minutes from its bench players, particularly the in backcourt with Wright and Jardine. They can't afford to be a total non-factor like they were against Siena.
Prediction While the Orange have the advantage in the backcourt, the Hawks' frontcourt will be a huge challenge to contain. Still, SU looks young and hungry, plus they'll be playing on their home court. Look for the Orange to play a more focused and controlled game and come away with a modest 7 to 9 point victory. In some ways, St. Joseph's might actually represent a more difficult matchup than the teams that SU is likely to see in NYC, should they win tonight. From a scheduling standpoint, tonight's game is of paramount importance as 2 marquee non-conference games hang in the balance. Expect Boeheim to pull out all the stops in going for the win in a fun and entertaining game.
SU 88 St. Joe's 81