SCOUTING THE ORANGE
The Carrier Dome is the venue for Saturday's basketball game, and West Virginia hopes that it puts forth a better effort on the hardwood than the football squad did on the dimly-lit surface in October. That egg-laying (a 48-23 loss) will appear small beside the Orange basketball team's margin of victory if West Virginia doesn't put up an outstanding effort.
While Syracuse still figures to be without freshman standout Fab Melo, the Orange are still loaded with talent. Depsite Melo's absence on the front line, the 'Cuse still runs out senior Kris Joseph (6-7, 210 lbs.) an athletic leaper who scores at a 13.7 points per game clip. He can elevate above defenders to get shots away and jumps past them to snare rebounds. With Melo out, he's shouldering a bit more of the load up front, and doesn't appear to be bothered at all with the extra attention he is receiving. Rakeem Christmas has also been solid in his first year on the roster, averaging 3.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while starting all 22 games. C.J. Fair has stepped in to replace Melo in the starting lineup, but other than being on the floor at the opening tip, his role hasn't changed much. The sophomore is averaging 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, and gives Syracuse a trio of starters who can score, defend and rebound in the paint.
As good as the front line is, the guards may be even better. Veterans Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine hold down the starting spots, and average 9.9 and 8.5 points per game, respectively. Both are also outstanding passers of the ball, and make great decisions when running the offense. Combined, they have 173 assists against just 74 turnovers. Jardine is the better overall shooter (51%) from the field, while Triche hits nearly 40% of his threes.
Jardine and Triche are just the start of the backcourt talent, however. Supersub Dion Waiters is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points in 22 minutes of action per game off the bench. He strokes it from everywhere, making an even 50% of his shots from the field and 70% from the line. Michael Carter Williams, another freshman, adds 2.8 points in 12 minutes of action.
There's even more depth up front, where James Sutherland provides 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in 16.5 minutes of action. Add in Baye Keita, a big center who chips in two points, two rebounds and a block in each contest, and there simply aren't many holes in the Syracuse roster.
Of all the attributes that make Syaracuse so tough, it may be the balanced roster that has it positioned as a national championship contender.
WVU 15-6, 5-3
SU 21-1 8-1
WVU - 17
SU - 1
For West Virginia to have a chance, it has to do several things -- and it has to do them all and do them well. Fall short of that standard, and the Mountaineers will be heading home with their second consecutive road loss.
First, WVU must pass the ball with accuracy. Mountaineer guards often lob the ball into post players like a hand grenade toss, or fire bullets at their knees. That's not going to work against SU's lengthy 2-3 zone. Guards have to create good angles to pass the ball, and put it in a spot where Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones can catch it.
Kilicli must use his strength to create space and make himself available for passes. He has to initiate contact and catch Syracuse defenders on his hip or backside, and keep them pinned in order to get the ball. He also need to pick up the pace on his post moves -- if he takes too long with the ball, Jardine, Triche and Waiters will swoop down to take swipes at the rock.
WVU has to get some bench productivity to at least offset Syracuse's balance. The Mountaineers have no chance to win if this is just the Jones and Bryant show. Kilicli and Aaron Brown must score. Jabarie Hinds and Gary Brown must hit a three or two, and create opportunities without forcing the ball too far against the Cuse zone.
Finally, WVU has to put forth great effort on the defensive end. That was clearly lacking against St. John's, and the result was one of the most embarrassing losses in recent school history. If WVU plays with that same level of energy on Saturday, the game will be over in the first five minutes.
Another reason Syracuse is 21-1? It values the ball and passes it well. As a team, the Orange have 129 more assists than turnovers, and actually have almost as many steals as giveaways. The latter is a huge stat, and gives Syracuse many more chances to score than most of its opponents. Although the Orange are just about dead even with opponents in rebounding, it has taken 123 more shots than its opponents. That, more than any other reason, explains why the Orange lead the Big East in scoring with 78 points per outing.
* * *
Bob Huggins is 4-2 at the Carrier Dome, but none of those wins came over the Orange. WVU defeated Washington (69-56) and Kentucky (73-66) in the 2010 NCAA East Regional to advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis, and his 1992-93 Cincinnati team defeated Coppin State and New Mexico State in the first and second rounds of the 1993 NCAA Tournament.
* * *
With 11 rebounds, Kevin Jones will move past Rod Hundley into fifth place on WVU's career board list. At his current pace, Jones has a reasonable shot of finishing third on the all-time list. Jones currently has 931, trailing Hundley (941), Willie Bergines (1,025) and Warren Baker (1,070).
With six made free throws, Bryant would pass P.G. Greene (417) on the career made free throws list.
* * *
For many seasons, Syracuse was a notoriously poor free throw shooting team, but that has not been a problem this year overall. Syracuse is making 69.4% of its free throws. Surprisingly, guard Scoop Jardine, who started out his career as an outstanding shooter, is hitting just 51% from the line.