SU started off its Big East campaign with wins over Seton Hall and South Florida, in what were as close to ‘gimme games' as you can get in the Big East. The Orange open this week with another one that they can't afford to lose, as they host the Blue Demons.
Syracuse will look to continue its winning ways against DePaul. Last year the Orange travelled to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois and gutted out a 60-55 victory. Coach Boeheim had only seven players to utilize in that game, but big man Arinze Onuaku made that task much easier. He dominated inside and totaled 22 points on an undersized Blue Demon squad.
This year, the Blue Demons should be improved on the interior with Mac Koshwal and Matija Poscic. Koshwal, now a sophomore, has physically developed a bit more into his rangy 240 pound frame. They'll have a tougher battle on their hands than last year, however. Onuaku will be joined by fellow banger Rick Jackson in the low post. Jackson will look to rebound from his worst game since being inserted into the starting lineup a month ago. He tallied just four points and four boards last Friday at South Florida.
While SU should be very effective on the low blocks, expect the biggest difference to be on the perimeter. With both Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins healthy and shooting the ball well, you can expect them to continue getting the rock, especially against a DePaul team that's no great shakes defensively. In its first Big East game of the season, DePaul gave up 92 points to Notre Dame and allowed Irish guards Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers to drain a combined seven treys.
Coupled with an SU team that's currently hitting on over fifty percent of its field goal attempts to lead the Big East, you can expect this one to be a high scoring affair if SU has its way. Jerry Wainwright, the DePaul coach who had Jonny Flynn on his Team USA squad recently, will look to make this a halfcourt game. That will be easier said than done, given SU's superior athleticism, especially with the beast on the boards, Paul Harris, returning from an injury that sidelined him for the last game and a half.
Expect Harris, Rick Jackson and Jonny Flynn to look for their shot a bit more than usual tonight as they try to re-establish themselves in the offensive flow. Flynn looked out of sync at many times in St. Petersburg and often looked like he was trying to take the entire USF team on by himself down the stretch. Flynn has just eight assists versus eight turnovers through two Big East games and knows that both he and the team cannot overlook games like this one.
Six Keys To The Game & Questions for the Team
-Will the vaunted 2-3 zone continue to experience success in Big East play? SU is giving up an average of 65 points in its two Big East games and a few of those came in garbage time courtesy of Seton Hall. The SU players may still not embrace the zone, evidenced by the fact that they rarely have their hands extended in the passing lanes (check out Ohio State's Evan Turner and Jon Diebler if you want to see a couple of active defenders in a zone defense). Meanwhile, the Orange face a DePaul team that has athletes but has never really been known for shooting the ball well. They struggled mightily from the floor in their most recent performance, a 62-54 loss to Providence. Watch out for players like Dar Walker and Devin Hill, two very streaky shooters.
-What role will Kristof Ongenaet play in the rotation? Even with Paul Harris out, I was surprised to see how much playing time the Belgian received. He did play solidly though, making a couple of hustle plays. Down the stretch in Big East play, Kristof and the rest of the bench will come in handy (as opposed to last year when the bench was virtually non-existent).
-How will Paul Harris fare in his return from injury? He's seemingly been a monster when he's on the floor and Jerry Wainwright referred to him as the Big East's best rebounder pound-for-pound, but we haven't seen much of Paul on the floor lately. If he receives significant time, expect him to crash the boards and make life rough for DePaul.
-If SU either puts up 70 points or shoots over fifty percent, it will start Big East play 3-0. DePaul is just 1-4 when surrendering seventy or more points this season and is also just 1-3 in road games. Those odds tilt this matchup a bit more towards the ‘Cuse.
-Arinze Onuaku vs. the free throw line (or phobia thereof). Who will win this battle? It may well decide SU's Big East fate this year. With an Arinze that can tough it out at the line and improve his free throw shooting to somewhere around sixty percent, SU has the potential to finish as one of the Big East's top three teams undoubtedly. If A.O. continues to struggle from the charity stripe though, opponents will just hack him mercilessly.
-Can SU find that killer instinct? While they may start out slow, they've usually managed to put a stamp on the game early in the second half. Can the Orange put the pedal to the metal and take care of another Big East foe? They were successful in this against Seton Hall at home, but couldn't do it on the road, allowing USF to dictate most of the second half. Expect SU to come out fired up at home and give the fans an offensive performance to savor (think tacos, everyone!)
Prediction: Syracuse 85, DePaul 71