Buccaneers Season to Date: ETSU has split 8 games on the season. They are undefeated at home, but have struggled to a 1-4 record on the road. Under these circumstances, one would expect the Carrier Dome to represent an intimidating presence. Unfortunately, it seems as though none of the out of conference opponents have been afraid to play in the Dome this year, a point reluctantly made by Jim Boeheim in last week's post-game press conference. Despite the mediocre record, ETSU has been in basically every game its played this year. Last Saturday they took Oklahoma State to the wire, trailing 68-65 before running into a late game scoring drought. Their other losses include a one point OT defeat at Marshall and a 4 point loss at Dayton.
Meet the Buccaneers: Murray Bartow's team is again expected to contend for the the Atlantic Sun championship this season. ETSU is coming off a 24-10 season in which it dominated Atlantic Sun play to the tune of a 16-2 league record but failed to receive an NCAA tourney bid after losing in the conference tournament. The Buccaneers last made the NCAA tourney in 2003-04, posting a 27-6 record in Bartow's first season at the helm.
Bartow actually has a interesting connection to SU hoops, as he was on the sidelines as a 23 year old grad assistant for the Indiana Hoosiers during SU's first National Championship appearance in 1987. Prior to that, he was a standout point guard for the University Alabama Birmingham.
Andrew Reed (6-8 SR), Kevin Tiggs (6-4 JR), and Courtney Pigram (6-1 JR) have all started every game this year. All three players are double digit scorers with Tiggs leading the pack at 16.4 ppg. Tiggs is the rare swingman who doesn't shoot a lot of threes, but Pigram makes up for him with nearly 6 attempts a game from beyond the arc. Four other players have rotated through the remaining two starting slots with sharpshooting 6-2 SR G Travis Strong (19-40 on 3pt) pouring in 10.3 ppg in spot starting duty. Mike Smith, a 6-6 SO F, provides some muscle and rebounding off the bench (5.8 ppg/5.9 rpg).
Game Outlook: Syracuse has a huge size advantage in this game, as Reed is their tallest starter at 6-8. Smith and Kenyona Swader (6-9 SR F) are the only other players who receive significant minutes and stand taller than 6-4. Swader is more of a perimeter player and doesn't look to mix it up too much inside with his 190 lb frame. Consequently, the Orange should be able to work the ball inside to Onuaku, Jackson, and Harris for easy scoring opportunities. Onuaku has been a very pleasant surprise on the early season but he must improve his free throw shooting, as opposing teams have figured out that fouling him is a good strategy to limit his effectiveness in the paint.
The three-point shot has become the great equalizer for mid-major teams in today's Division One college landscape. Teams from smaller conferences often compensate for lack of size and athleticism by fielding teams with a roster full of shooters. ETSU is no exception, as they enter the game having connected on over 40% of their three point attempts this year. Swader leads the way at 54.2% (13-24) and Pigram and Strong are also capable of pouring in multiple long range shots in a game. One of Syracuse's biggest weaknesses this season has been a perimeter defense that has allowed nearly 40% efficiency on shots beyond the arc. Look for ETSU to thoroughly test SU's defense away from the basket.
Another thing that the Bucs do well is convert in transition. Bartow's squad has decent team speed and they are usually known for their hustle and intensity. This is yet another area that the Orange have struggled with this year. Losses to UMass, Rhode Island, and Ohio State all featured the common theme of multiple fastbreak points allowed. The Bucs are averaging 80 points a contest, so they want to play at a fast pace. Let's hope the 'Cuse isn't caught asleep at the switch when it comes to getting back on "D" tonight.
Prediction: Since taking up residence in the Carrier Dome in 1980, Syracuse has never lost more than 2 pre-season home non-conference games in a single season . To avoid being the first Boeheim team to ever lose 3 such games, the Orange must defend its home court four more times before Big East play starts. With a week off to prepare his team, Boeheim will have stressed the importance of taking each of these games seriously. Last season's losses to Wichita State and Drexel proved to be the proverbial nails in the NCAA tourney coffin, so expect the Orange play with more focus and determination during the upcoming series of OOC games. ETSU is a solid team, but it is not on par with the UMass and Rhode Island teams that knocked off SU earlier this year. Look for the Orange to put up a lot of point today and play at least slightly better defense. SU 92 ETSU 79