Syracuse faces tough January

Now the real season begins. <br><br> With it's cupcake schedule behind them, Syracuse will test the waters against the best in the nation when it opens a January filled with tough Big East opponents, ranked competition and national coverage.

After topping Canisius, 87-69, Monday night, the Orangemen will play Seton Hall (4-4), Wednesday, and Boston College (6-3), Jan. 11. Following the start of their Big East schedule, a showdown with No. 16 Missouri and then later in the week, No. 2 Pitt.

"We have to go back and refocus," senior Kueth Duany told reporters, Monday. "We've had a few pretty easy games and we've learned a substantial amount, but now .... we have to buckle down."

The third week of January will be a barometer for the Orangemen. Two wins will put them among the elite of the country, and secure them a spot in the top 25. Losses in the early part of January will stunt Syracuse's quest for the postseason.

The most intriguing matchup seems to be a date with Pitt. The new powerhouse the Big East, Pitt preaches balance, with three players averaging double-digit points, with two others not far behind.

Pitt's Julius Page, 12.4 ppg, and Brandin Knight, 6.6 apg, headline a team with unlimited potential.

Then there is the Big 12 matchup with Missouri. Rickey Paulding has enjoyed a fine season, putting up over 18 points per game. He leads four players averaging double digits while Arthur Johnson comes in with 8.1 rebounds per game, and just under two blocks.

January will be the month that makes or breaks the Orangemen. Hakim Warrick has enjoyed a breakout year, but will his lost post moves produce thunderous dunks against bigger, stronger opponents? Or will they lead to duds like last season?

Can the freshman phenom, Carmelo Anthony carry this team to the round of 64?

Here are three keys for answering these questions:

1) Defense. Syracuse has shown flashes of brilliance, including holding Canisius to eight points in the final seven minutes, Monday night. The zone has proved effective thus far, and it must hold against better shooting teams.

2) Freshman play: Gerry McNamara and Carmelo Anthony have carried the team so far. Billy Edelin isn't too far away from being back with the team. This trio must be able to put points in the bucket in clutch situations. Anthony couldn't carry the Orangemen against Memphis, he will need to do so against Pitt, Missouri, St. Johns, and Georgetown.

3) Centers: Jeremy McNeil has taken large strides, as has sophomore Craig Forth. Still, McNeil is foul prone, and Forth continues to be a basket case, mentally taking himself out of games. Missouri's Johnson won't show mercy and neither can these two.

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