Pregame: St. Johns at Syracuse

Wednesday evening marks the advent of Big East play for the Syracuse Orange when they take on the St. Johns Red Storm in the Carrier Dome at 7 PM. Syracuse is riding a four game winning streak while the Red Storm have five losses in their last seven contests. SU must get off to a fast start in Big East play because the latter half of the conference schedule is simply brutal.

Red Storm Season to Date: The Johnnies enter the game ranked #136 in the KenPom RPI. The best teams they've played are Miami, Virginia Tech, Tulane, Ohio, and Niagara, all of which rank in the top 77 of the RPI. Unfortunately for Red Storm fans, they've lost each of these games. Their wins have come against bottom feeders like St. Francis, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Sacred Heart. The only common opponent that SU and St. Johns share is Tulane, which SU beat 73-60 and St. Johns lost to 79-71.

Meet the Red Storm: Norm Roberts' team is full of new faces this year, as only two returning players saw major minutes last year. Gone from last year's team are go-to guy Lamont Hamilton, perimeter gunner Avery Patterson, exciting but inconsistent point guard Daryll Hill, and promising forward Qa'rraan Calhoun. The premature loss of Calhoun and Patterson has really hurt the program.

The mainstays are SR PG Eugene Lawrence and JR F Anthony Mason Jr. Larry Wright returns after playing a little under 400 minutes last season, but everything else around their trio of players is a hodge-podge. Lawrence is a decent Big East player who has never been able to break into the ranks of the league's elite performers. He's dependable for low double digits in the scoring column but is a mediocre (at best) shooter. What he doesn't do is turn the ball over much, as he's posted a solid 49 to 24 assist to turnover ratio.

Anthony Mason Jr returns to undoubtedly cause massive amounts of havoc against the Orange defense. Syracuse has an ability to make him look like a candidate for league MVP. Last year Mason Jr posted averages of 18.5 ppg, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists against SU and knocked down 58.3% from beyond the arc. Against teams not named Syracuse, he averaged 11.4 ppg and shot 29% from three point range. Fortunately for the Orange, Demetris Nichols had a MONSTER game in the Dome (37 points and 10 rebounds), otherwise Mason Jr would have led the Red Storm to a season sweep.

This year, Mason Jr is off to a slow start after missing the first five games of the season. His scoring is rough the same as last year, but his work on the glass has taken a notable hit at only 2.3 boards per contest.

Many of those missing boards have been gobbled up by Justin Burrell, a 6-8, 220 lb freshman forward. Burrell is an absolute beast of an athlete who competes hard on the glass and seemingly has springs in his calves. He plays with a ferociousness that will be fun to watch as he takes on SU's new frontcourt.

Teh aforementioned Larry Wright (6-2 SO SG) is St. John's best perimeter shooter, having connected on nearly 40% from long range. His job is to replace the departed Avery Patterson. Wright has plenty of competition on teh wings with freshmen Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy seeing some significant playing time. Kennedy is the team's best newcomer at 10 ppg and 7.5 rbg. Manning the middle is JR Tomas Jasiulionis, who has Big East size at 6-11, 249 lb, but doesn't really have Big East game.

Game Outlook: The Red Storm may be a Big East team, but they project to finish near the bottom of the league. This is the type of game that Syracuse needs to approach with a workmanlike attitude. If the Red Storm can force the game to degenerate into a playground-like atmsophere, then SU could struggle. If the 'Cuse plays with poise and focus, they should be able to blow the Johnnies off the court.

Obviously the biggest concern will be keeping Anthony Mason Jr in check. He's not a top tier Big East player, but he always seems to play like one against the Orange. Mason Jr has literally picked apart the SU zone in the past, so Boeheim may choose to spend some time in the man to man to counter his effectiveness. In such a scenario, look for Paul Harris to draw the assignment.

The other main concern will be keeping Burrell off the offensive glass. He plays the type of game that could give the SU zone fits, attacking on teh weakside with his huge vertical leap and excellent natural strength. The SU frontcourt will really need to identify where he is on the court otherwise he could have a field day on putbacks.

On the offensive end, Syracuse needs to keep doing what it has been doing recently, namely scoring in transition while limiting the turnovers. The Red Storm are capable of forcing turnovers and making this into a sloppy and ugly game, so teh Orange must counter by taking care of the glass and playing under control.

This game will be a good test for freshmen Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene, neither of whom played up to their usual standards on Sunday. Boeheim cannot afford to have his talented freshmen play subpar games, so Wednesday's contest will be a good test to see if they can bounce back. This is also the type of game where Kristof Ongenaet could play a key role, as one of the best ways to counter scrappy opponents is to insert your own scrapper into the game. Look for him to once again put the K.O. in Kristof Ongenaet if the Red Storm look for easy baskets.

Prediction: Syracuse has too much talent for St. Johns. Flynn and Greene rebound from Sunday's game with focus and determination and the Orange take an early lead into the break. The Red Storm makes a run midway through the second half but a pair of triples from Greene proves to be the dagger. Syracuse 74 St. Johns 68


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