Pregame: Syracuse vs. Fordham

The Syracuse Orange take a short break from their Preseason NIT schedule and entertain the Fordham Rams on Friday evening in the Dome. The Rams were victorious in their first two games, but was drubbed by Missouri 79-55 on Tuesday night. The Orange enter the game with all five starters averaging at least 14.5 ppg.

The Setting: Friday night's game offers an excellent opportunity for head coach Jim Boeheim to "tune up" his team prior to next week's PNIT Semifinals against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Madison Square Garden. Fordham is 2-1 on the season with wins over Central Missouri State and Columbia. After using a very limited rotation in the first two PNIT games, Boeheim should have more room to tinker with the lineups on Friday.

The Rams have seen steady improvement recently, going from an abysmal 6-22 (3-13) record in 2003-04 to 18-12 (10-6) last year. Each season in between the team has improved its win total and this year they are expected to place near the top of the Atlantic-10, thanks to two potential all-league performers in seniors Marcus Stout and Bryant Dunston.

A major factor in the school's turnaround has been head coach Derek Whittenberg, who took over a team decimated by defections and internal squabbling under previous coach Bob Hill. Whittenberg was hired after leading Wagner University to its first ever NCAA tourney bid in 2003. He was recently rewarded for his efforts with a contract extension through the 2012-13 season.

Rams Personnel: Like most mid-major teams, Fordham generates its offense from the perimeter. Stout (6-4 SR G), freshman swingman Mike Moorre (6-5) and SO Brenton Butler (6-2 G) form a trio of capable wing scorers. Combined, they've made nearly 50% of their attempted three pointers (17-39 overall. Stout is the leading scorer amongst the backcourt rotation.

The most accomplished frontcourt player is Bryant Dunston (6-8, 233 lb F), who has averaged about 15 ppg and 7.5 rpg in each of his four seasons in the Bronx. He and Stout form a solid 1-2 punch, but outside of Dunston the Rams have no other proven interior scorer. Sebastian Greene, a 6-9 SR from Frankfurt, Germany, provides depth up front.

Game Outlook: While Fordham projects as an above average team in the Atlantic-10, Syracuse will be more athletic and bigger at most positions. Look for Boeheim to use this game as a teaching experience, especially after using such a short bench in the season's first two games. Syracuse should have a distinct advantage on the interior, where the Rams have no one to match up with either Arinze Onuaku or Rick Jackson. SU perimeter players Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris would be well advised to get the ball in to the horses early and often.

Unless the game is really close, look for Boeheim to give both Scoop Jardine and Josh Wright some extended minutes. Boeheim rarely establishes a four man backcourt rotation, so the pressure is on these two players to produce. Wright obviously has the edge in experience but Jardine may have the edge in longterm upside. Friday's game should help Boeheim take a step towards making the decision of which player remains in the backcourt rotation.

The picture is much clearer in the frontcourt. Harris and Greene will play major minutes in every game of significance. Onuaku will play as much as his conditioning and ability to stay out of foul trouble allow. Jackson and Ongenaet are both capable back-ups and given the physical nature of the Big East, you can bet that both will see minutes this year. If the Syracuse starters can take care of business, this game will allow for Boeheim to prepare his bench players to play a bigger role next week in New York than they did earlier this week.

Prediction: With four games under their collective belts, the SU offense starts to gel a bit more. The starters pull out to a big first half lead but the Rams whittle away due to Orange carelessness. Second half turnovers make the game closer than it should be, but Syracuse's athleticism and fullcourt speed allows for a relatively easy win when all is said and done.

Syracuse 94 Fordham 81


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