Pregame: Syracuse vs. Massachusetts

The Syracuse Orange and Massachusetts Minutemen collide at 7:15 tonight in the Carrier Dome. Both teams enter the game sporting 4-1 overall records. The Orange are fresh off a 1-1 split in the final rounds of the Preseason NIT while UMASS has won its last two games.

Travis Ford's Minutemen have gotten off to a good start this year, posting convincing wins over Yale and Wisconsin-Green Bay and advancing to the finals of the BTI tip-off in Iowa. Their sole defeat came at the hands of a very good Northern Iowa team. Most experts have the minutemen projected in the upper half of the A-10.

Meet the Minutemen 6-7 senior swingman Gary Forbes has been scorching the nets to the tune of 23 ppg. He is a dangerous perimeter shooter and can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. In addition to leading the team in scoring, he also leads in rebounds and assists (>3 per game), but has had problems taking care of the ball on occasion. Look for Paul Harris to draw the tough assignment of dogging Forbes should Boeheim decide to employ some man to man defense.

Forbes and 6-2 SO Ricky Harris form a formidable duo in the backcourt. Harris is posting 18 points per game and has already hosted 32 triple attempts on the young season. His shot selection is questionable at times, so he could be the type of player who rushs shots against the SU zone, which is a strategy that rarely leads to success.

Etienne Brower is a third minuteman averaging over 15 ppg. He is a Eurorpean style 6-7 forward who has put up ungodly shooting numbers through 5 games. He's connect on 67.5% from the field and canned 15 of 24 shots from beyond the arc (62.4%). He is coming off a fantastic 25 pt, 8 rebound game against Wisconsin-Green Bay in which he canned 7 of 10 three pointer attempts. Clearly the SU zone will have to locate and close-out on Brower or it could be a long evening.

Luke Bonner, Dante Milligan, and Tony Gaffney also see major minutes in Ford's system. Milligan started his collegiate career at Pitt but transfered to UMass after injuring his hand and playing in only 5 games in a Panthers uniform. He's a mobile 6-9 forward who has never lived up to his top-100 high school billing, but he is capable of doing damage inside if left unattended. Unlike the rest of the roster, he's not likely to hoist any threes.

Bonner, like much of Ford's roster, is a transfer. The 7-1 JR center started his career at West Virginia, while both Gaffney and Forbes began their careers at Boston University. While Bonner doesn't provide much in the way of post presence, he is a lethal three point shooter (7 of 12 on the year).

Game Outlook Syracuse's trip to New York exposed several weaknesses. First off, the transition offense that has been so fun and exciting to watch simply cannot function if the defense gives up too many points, cannot control the boards, or fails to generate turnovers. Ohio State was very efficient with the ball and limited SU's transition opportunities by keeping their turnover count low and shooting a high percentage from the field. Both Washington and Ohio State were very effective at scoring against Syracuse's zone and man to man defenses. It's hard to get out and run after made baskets, so expect Boeheim to demand a more concerted effort on the defensive end tonight.

Another major problem that the team experienced in New York was lack of rebounding. The Huskies simply pummeled the Orange on the glass, scoring a majority of their points on putbacks. UMass is not a particularly physical or big team, so SU should probably have a much easier time controlling the glass on Wednesday night. Regardless of the size of the opponent, the 'Cuse needs to take rebounding (on both ends of the floor) more seriously.

Another thing that the Orange have to get back to is sharing the ball. Last Wednesday's game against Ohio State showed just what happens when the team's play degenerates into one-on-one madness. The Orange put on a passing display for the first 10 minutes of the game and roared ahead 20-13, but some selfish play from Devendorf, Harris, and Flynn resulted in the offense grinding to a halt, scoring only 45 points over the last 30 minutes of the contest.

Fortunately, Boeheim got his charges back on track against Washington and the result was 91 points on the board. A big reason was the play of Jonny Flynn, who suffered through a horrible performance against Ohio State but bounced back nicely against Washington. He needs to serve as the catalyst whose unselfish play is an example to teammates. This SU team can be deadly when everyone is looking to play together. JB needs to continue to pound this idea into his players' heads.

The scariest thing about tonight's game is the fact that the Minutemen have 4 separate players who average more than 1 three pointer made per game. Look for them to throw up somewhere in the vicinity of 30 three point attempts. Sheer volume of attempts from distance can make things dicey, particularly if the wings of the zone (Harris and Greene) are having difficulty getting out on the shooters.

SU definitely has the athletes to match up with UMass, so look for Boeheim to use man to man defense for significant portions of the game. Boeheim's teams have had success in changing defenses in the past to keep the opponent off balance. Regardless of which style of defense becomes the base, improvements must be made if this team wants to live up to its vast potential.

Prediction UMass keeps it tight early with some hot outside shooting, but SU makes a second half run by turning up the defensive intensity and forcing turnovers. Syracuse 88 UMass 77

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