Syracuse isn't quite as athletic as they were last year on their march to the national title, but they still play outstanding defense and have enough scoring punch and depth to be on the verge of the 20-win mark again.
Forward Hakim Warrick (6-8, 210) is the go-to guy in the front court, averaging 19.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. In addition to being an excellent shooter and interior scorer, Warrick knows his limitations, doesn't shoot from out of his range, and passes the ball extremely well, which makes him a danger even when he isn't taking the ball to the basket.
Craig Forth (7-0, 260) and Demetris Nichols (6-8, 205) are lesser scoring threats, but they form two-thirds of a frontcourt combination that complements Warrick quite nicely. Forth scores 5.4 points and nabs 5.5 rebounds per game, and has also blocked 57 shots, while Nichols adds 3.9 points and 2.1 boards to the 'Cuse effort. Off the bench, Jeremy McNeil (6-8, 260) provides more muscle and bulk, while freshman Terrance Roberts (6-9, 220) and Darryl Watkins (6-11, 240) provide even more length to the Orange front court. While none are big scoring threats by themselves, taken together, they are a formidable presence, especially on defense.
Gerry McNamara (6-2, 180) has been forced to take over the point guard duties since the loss of Billy Edelin, and it has affected his game a bit. He has struggled with his shooting percentage (37.5% from the field) but has hit some key shots to give Syracuse big wins. He averages 16.0 points and leads the team in steals and assists.
Backcourt mate Josh Pace (6-5, 195) averages 9.9 points and a hefty 5.2 rebounds per contest, but his strength is on the interior. Pace has made only one three-point shot this year, as the bulk of the three-point shooting is left to McNamara, Nicols and Louis McCroskey. McCroskey (6-5, 185) gets most of the backup minutes at guard, and averages 4.2 points per outing.
While this battle might not be a head-to-head confrontation in some instances, Fischer will confront Warrick on many occasions when shots head toward the basket.
|Tue 3/2 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 14-11, 6-8
SU 19-6, 9-5
WVU - 91
SU - 17
|Margin: SU +4|
From his center position in WVU's 1-3-1 defense, Fischer must find Warrick as the ball goes toward the rim and keep him from getting the offensive rebounds and stickbacks that make up much of his offensive game. That's not an easy task, obviously. Warrick excels at slipping through gaps between opponents and getting to the board, and Fischer has to figure out a way to get back from his spot and keep Warrick from racking up a double-double.
Offensively, it's obvious that Fischer has been frustrated in recent games. His moves have been a bit slow and mechanical, and that has led to some turnovers and soft shot attempts in the post. The Mountaineer big man has the skill to score inside - he just needs to make a quick move and take the ball up strongly against his opponent.
Against the Orange 2-3 zone, Fischer might hot get the ball in the post as much as he does against a man to man look, but he needs to take a page from Warrick's book and fight to the offensive boards as much as possible. In a game where every possession will be important, a few extra chances on the offensive end could make the difference for West Virginia.
WVU: Tyler Relph (Nose) Probable
SU: Billy Edelin (Personal) Out
Syracuse is famous for their 2-3 zone, but the Orangemen have shown the willingness to play a couple other looks for a few series when necessary. Whether or not that's the case against the Mountaineers will be a strong indicator of the way the game is going.
Expect the 'Cuse to come out in their 2-3 and stay with it if WVU continues in their shooting slump. The Mountaineers must hit some three-pointers to ease the grip that the Orangemen hold on the defensive rim, otherwise, there are going to be a huge number of "one and done" offensive trips for the home team.
WVU will probably have to hit at least five or six treys in the opening half to get the defense loosened up, but that's only half the battle. While the opportunities might then be there for drives to the basket (and perhaps more importantly, getting to the free throw line), WVU must take advantage of them. It can't just be Tyrone Sally and Joe Herber heading for the hoop. Jarmon Durisseau-Collins and Tyler Relph must drive and dish, and D'or Fischer and Kevin Pittsnogle have to lose the fadeaways and take the ball up strongly.
Barring a Syracuse cold streak, anything short of a balanced offensive effort and much-improved shooting will likely result in a fourth consecutive defeat for the home team.
Tyrone Sally has to shoot the ball. The Mountaineer junior is hitting 52.9% of his shots from the field in Big East games, yet he had only four attempts against Virginia Tech.
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Jim Boeheim has won 20 or more games 25 times in his 27 full seasons at Syracuse. That ties him for the third-most 20-victory campaigns among active head coaches.
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While being down five or six points with three minutes to go might be close enough for many teams to mount a rally, it's not for WVU. Since West Virginia doesn't have a player that can consistently create a quick shot, the Mountaineers are forced to run their offense to get opening, which takes time off the clock. Conversely, of course, a six-point WVU lead with that much time left usually assures a victory.
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Syracuse is the all-time winningest Big East conference team, with 261 victories in 400 regular season games.
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Remember when WVU had the longest-running pair of head coaches in Division I? Now, it's Syracuse which has had the same duo coaching football and men's basketball since 1991. Jim Boeheim has been at the helm of the Orange basketball program since the 1976-77 season, while head football coach Paul Pasqualoni was appointed to his position in January, 1991. SU's combined record during the 13 years is 404-177-1 (.694)