And that one loss was basically predicated on four minutes of awful play. In a 74-63 home loss to Georgetown, UConn was outscored 15-1 before the first television timeout. From there on out, Jim Calhoun's squad outscored the Hoyas 63-59. Now that we've established that UConn is four minutes away from still being unbeaten, we need to take on the tougher part: how SU hopes to hang in the game with UConn.
Expect Jim Boeheim to use the 2-3 zone quite a bit, as UConn is a team that can be prone to cold-shooting. While they have an inside presence with Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, the team is comprised mainly of athletic players and there isn't one player on the team I'd want to count on in the clutch for a three pointer. That being said, SU needs to use the 2-3, but mix it with a man defense. Jim Calhoun has been around just as long as Jimmy B. and knows his tricks. UConn will constantly have players flashing to the exposed area around the free throw line all night and has the size and athleticism to cause SU fits in defensive matchups.
However, I think the key to this game will be the guard play. With a gimpy A.O. we should expect UConn to own a sizable advantage on the boards and to dominate the play in the low post. But SU has a trio of guards in Johnny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins that can shoot, penetrate and dish effectively. Through that, SU can get the Huskies into early foul trouble…and that's an issue that's been mostly an ‘unknown' for Connecticut this season, as they've rarely had to deal with it.
Either way, sit down on the couch and tune into ESPN because this Syracuse-UConn matchup will add another page to the storied rivalry between the two teams and coaches, whether for better or worse.
Six Keys To The Game / Pressing Questions:
- Where's the discipline? I don't really want to bring out the ugly stats to back myself up here. Just know that if you saw the game against Villanova on Saturday, it even transcends those numbers. It was the fundamentals of basketball that the Orange lacked on Saturday. A lack of hustle, court awareness, you name it, it was evidenced by the ‘Cuse in Philly. Now, if the team plays like that tonight, it will lose by thirty or forty. If Jonny Flynn truly is one of the nation's best point guards, he needs to rally his team around him and lead them. Expect Flynn to rise to the occasion tonight. That being said, I still think he won't pass the rock around enough, which will cost SU tonight.
- Can SU neutralize the UConn bigs? While conventional wisdom might say that the brunt of this task lies on the shoulders of Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, I tend to disagree. Those two will have to man up in the post tonight, but more importantly, SU's slashing guards could present matchup challenges if they take it straight into Thabeet. Just a couple of calls go against Mr. Thabeet and it's a whole new ballgame.
- UConn is one of the few teams that can match SU's scoring prowess. While SU has five players averaging double digits, UConn has four and a couple more that average more than eight points per game. UConn can go eight deep without much of a dropoff. That's why SU might be better off trying to slow the game down. With this year's team, the ‘Cuse usually have an athletic advantage and can run up and down the court on teams. However, SU's chances of pulling the upset might just grow if they can play inspired defense and keep the game in the sixties.
- This is a UConn team that rebounds and ‘shares the sugar' as well as any team in the land. Averaging 41 boards and nearly sixteen dimes per contest, the Huskies are an unselfish team and there's more than a few players that can lead the team in scoring on any given night. SU will need to match them in patience and execution. The Orange don't quite run as deep, but it will also present matchup problems for UConn as well.
- Simply put, will Paul Harris show up? SU seems to do exponentially better when he is in the game. And when he's ‘in the game', he's usually grabbing tons of rebounds. He'll need to do that tonight, as he'll have a feisty competitor in Adrien on the other side of the court. Also, Andy Rautins will be a key for SU. The team has a sterling record when he records double digits and as we all know, three pointers at any point of the game can be daggers, especially when consecutively hit. And that just happens to be Andy's main area of expertise.
- It has to start at the top. I've spent the first five points talking about the players on the team, but it starts with the head coach. Sure, Jim Boeheim's résumé suggests that he's a Hall of Fame worthy coach. If that's the case, though, he should be able to get this kids shipshape. There's been an alarming lack of respect for the coaching staff and a plethora of boneheaded plays this season (technical fouls, anyone?) That's the job of Boeheim to correct and if he doesn't, SU could be in for a long March once again. However, if Jimmy B. does coax an inspired effort out of the troops tonight, there's not another single game in regular season that we'll be chalking up as a definite loss before the game even starts. SU's toughest remaining test is at Marquette, a guard-dominated team that SU dominated in the Dome to close last year's campaign.
Prediction: #1 UConn 81, #22 Syracuse 69