The Orange opens conference play with four games where they'll be the definite favorites. So with a returning Eric Devendorf (and hopefully a wiser one, as well) along with a healing Jonny Flynn, SU needs to make hay while the sun shines (in other words, put up the W's against unranked foes).
Seton Hall, a middle of the pack Big East team that many picked to be a sleeper this year, has struggled as of late. They've been missing the services of big man John Garcia, who's been sidelined the last three games with an injury. The Hall will be shorthanded again tonight, but at the very least, it has regained momentum. Following a two-game skid, Seton Hall took care of business against Fairleigh Dickinson 101-70. Bobby Gonzalez's squad began the season much like Syracuse did: with some impressive non-conference victories. The Pirates hooked Southern California and Virginia Tech in early season matchups and put up an impressive showing against Memphis (playing without their second-leading scorer, no less).
While the Pirates are shorthanded, they won't be caught flat-footed early. They played their last contest on Saturday, while SU has been off for over a week: something that could have an adverse affect on a team prone to slow first half starts as it is. Expect SU to be able to control the interior though with the absence of Seton Hall's main big man. SU should have an advantage with its athleticism, speed and size. (Of the projected starting lineups for tonight's game, only SU's Eric Devendorf is outsized by his Seton Hall counterpart – and that is only by a mere eight pounds).
For what it's worth, these two Big East teams share just one common opponent so far: the Memphis Tigers. The ‘Cuse triumphed on the road over Memphis, while Seton Hall fell just short 84-70. The Pirates will try to utilize their guard/forward (combo-type player) Jeremy Hazell as the main point of their offense. They have undersized, yet gritty guards that should provide a stiff defensive challenge for the SU perimeter game. The game will be won in the low post, however, where Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku should run rampant all night long.
Six Additional Facts/Keys To The Game:
· Can Andy Rautins keep up his torrid shooting? He swished a Dome-record nine trifectas in SU's last game: an 82-71 win over Coppin State.
· How will SU fare on the boards? As I've mentioned, Seton Hall is missing its big man, John Garcia. But even without his presence, the Pirates will be a formidable test. They have six other players averaging over three boards per contest, including Robert Mitchell who is tied for the team lead with Garcia at 8.2 per contest. This game will be telling as to how SU will fare in the physical Big East this season. Expect Paul Harris to rise to the occasion and make a run at a double-double.
· At just under 33 percent from behind the arc, Seton Hall is actually one of the best 3 point shooting teams SU has faced this season. Their leading scorer, Hazell, and freshman guard Jordan Theodore are the most potent threats. Each knocks down nearly forty percent from distance.
· How will Boeheim use the zone defense? It has been fairly effective as of late, notwithstanding McKee's 31 point barrage. The zone defense has its advantages and disadvantages, the latter which include giving up open looks from three point land and no blocking out/rebounding assignments. So those two things will be keys in every game. For those of you who follow the Big East conference just as voraciously as you do the ‘Cuse, I'm sure you saw what West Virginia was able to do to the Ohio State Buckeyes this past weekend. The Buckeyes have quite a few similarities to SU, especially with the zone defense. And the smaller Mountaineers team manhandled the Buckeyes on the boards on their way to a 28 point thrashing. (To be fair, the Buckeyes lost junior David Lighty to a broken foot in the previous week, but the odds of him dropping thirty on WVU and changing the outcome of that game were about the same as a team running the table in Big East play this year).
· How will SU mitigate Jeremy Hazell? Opposing teams' stars (Tywain McKee and Ryan Wittman, for starters) have had an annoying penchant of going off when they play SU this year. Expect a combination of guys, mostly likely Devo, Rautins and Paul Harris to assume the defensive responsibilities tonight.
· How will SU return from the layoff and how will Eric Devendorf reacquaint himself with the team? That's anyone's guess, but like Jonny Flynn said not too long ago, fans might have to get used to SU being slow starters off the blocks. An unpleasant thought, but Devo's return will likely be the exact opposite. Expect the team's emotional leader to come back with a vengeance tonight and hit some clutch shots down the stretch.
The Prediction: #11 Syracuse 79, Seton Hall 68