Providence is 10-2 at home this season and SU has had its share of struggles playing at the cozy arena in Rhode Island's capital. The Friars are not ranked, but at 5-2 in conference play, they'll pose a dangerous threat. This start in conference play marks Provy's best in eight years.
Last year's national coach of the year, Keno Davis has a deep squad with a versatile bench. The squad boasts seven scorers checking in at more than eight points per game, which will present an interesting challenge for the now-shorthanded SU squad. Besides the injury to Rautins, SU will also be without Mookie Jones.
The bench player had only appeared in nine games this season with a nagging hip injury, but many still thought he could provide some key minutes off the bench down the stretch in the grueling Big East. However, Coach Boeheim recently announced that the freshman will undergo surgery on February 4th that will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Providence is led by Weyinmi Efejuku, who besides having one of the nation's best names, also serves as the Friars' version of Paul Harris. Albeit a tad lankier, Efejuku is the kind of player that can stuff a stat sheet. Whether it be with an athletic block, his quick hands or a rim-rattling dunk, Efejuku has the ability to create mismatches and fluster opponents.
If SU wants to avoid slipping out of the rankings and onto the bubble (ask Notre Dame how fast it can happen), this is a must-win game for the ‘Cuse.
Six Keys To The Game / Pressing Questions
· So let's begin with the obvious stat. SU has been held in check offensively over its last four Big East contests, in which it holds a 1-3 record. Point totals are down drastically, as are shooting and offensive efficiency categories. But the Friars present an excellent opportunity for the Orange to turn its fortunes. Providence ranks last in the conference, allowing opponents to make more than 44% of their field goal attempts. Meanwhile, the Orange is first in field goal percentage offense, knocking down just less than fifty percent from the floor. If SU can exploit this by shooting over fifty percent and take care of the ball, it should be fine in this matchup.
· Jonny Flynn needs to get on track for SU, and fast, if the team wants to make any noise in conference play. Flynn always seems to finish with decent stat lines, but if you watch the game, you can see times when he looks terribly out of sync and tries to force too many shots. The SU point man is just 6 for 26 from the floor in his last two games. The Pitt game is an excellent example of this, as his stat line was respectable (twelve points, seven dimes and four boards), but Flynn also had three turnovers and 0fer from downtown, in playing one of his worst games in an SU uniform. While Jonny has many unique talents, playing 1-on-5 basketball isn't quite within his powers. He needs to serve as more of a distributing PG, instead of the playground variety.
· For what it's worth, Eric Devendorf has attempted seven or more three pointers in three of SU's four losses this year. He has also scored more than seventeen points in three of the Orange's four defeats. While Rautins' injury gives Devo an opportunity to regain his spot in the starting lineup, perhaps it's a better idea if he also looks to set up other people as well as himself.
· I'll be watching the battle in the low post intently. While Arinze Onuaku has the advantage in pounds on Randall Hanke, the Providence senior is no pushover. The senior big man has come into his own this season, shooting 72 percent from the free throw line and averaging nearly double figures and five boards a game in less than seventeen minutes of play per game. More impressive than all that, however, is the fact that Hanke is hitting an even seventy percent of his shots from the floor, right behind Onuaku, who's at 70.6% currently.
· Providence is one of two teams in the Big East that scores more points than SU. With their recent offensive slump, the Orange has fallen to third in the conference at 79.3 ppg. Expect an entertaining, fast-paced game and hopefully the refs will comply by allowing these two teams' tremendous athletes to work their magic. The onus might be on SU's defense just as much as its offense in this contest, however. Provy is just 5-5 when it scores less than its season average of 79 points. The Friars are 8-1 when they top that mark however.
· Do it all Paul could well be the X factor of the game. He has a reputation of bringing his best, no matter where the game is, but has scored just fifteen points combined in the last two contests. Paul Harris is a physical specimen that grab rebounds with the best of ‘em, something the SU team finds itself incompetent at. When Harris is on his game, he can easily get double-digit rebounds. He's done that seven times this year and each time he's tallied a double-double. Paulie added three or more assists in four of those seven contests as well.
Prediction: Syracuse 86, Providence 80