Every discussion of Syracuse begins with forward Preston Shumpert, who leads the Orangemen in scoring and is at the top of nearly every statistical category on the team. The smooth Shumpert is equally deadly at the three point line or in the lane, and complements those skills with a dead eye (81%) from the foul line.
Shumpert isn't the only story here. Underrated guards Kueth Duany and DeShaun Williams form a big and strong backcourt that take advantage of the holes left open by defenders eyeballing Shumpert. their height and size figure to cause WVU problems on the defensive end.
The inside is where Syracuse might have a bit of a weakness, but if so it isn't much of one. Power forward Hakim Warrick and center Craig Forth, both freshmen, have provided respectable support for their older running mates. They combine for 12 points and nine rebounds per game - enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
The Orangemen go with mostly an eight man rotation, which they can get away with due to their propensity to slow the game down defensively with coach Jim Boeheim's pet 2-3 zone.
WVU's Lionel Armstead vs. Syracuse's Kueth Duany
The temptation here is to go with the obvious matchup of Tyrone Sally versus Preston Shumpert, but we believe the more telling tale will be told here.
WVU 0-2, 7-6
SU 3-0, 14-2
|Sat 1/13 7:00 PM|
|Line: SU -7.5|
On the Mountaineer side, Armstead must play the type of defense he showed against the first half against Notre Dame. LA got into the passing lanes, denied the ball and forced the bigger Irish guards away from the basket. He, and his backup Drew Schifino, must do the same for 40 minutes to give West Virginia a chance to spring the upset.
This type of challenge is especially draining defensively. Opposing a player who can post up inside, drive the lane or shoot a long jump shot means there's simply no place or time to grab a quick breather on the floor. That workload, in turn, can affect a player's offensive performance. Fans should watch for signs of this in WVU's guards, as the coaching staff is sure to be.
The game figures to be high scoring, even with the Orangemen's affinity for the game slowing zone. The Cuse is averaging 80 points per contest, and with West Virginia's defense being more down than up this year, Syracuse figures to score some points.
Watch for Syracuse to invert their offense a bit to take advantage of their height at guard. Don't be surprised to see both Duany and Williams operating along the baseline and in the lane while Shumpert patrols the perimeter.
For the Mountaineers, this situation is tailor made for the diamond and one or triangle and two defense, but with West Virginia's poor rebounding habits to date, defenses such as these will be a risk. WVU can't sit back in a zone too often, as Syracuse hits trees at a 38.5% clip, but going man will expose the Mountaineer guards to set plays for their bigger, stronger, counterparts. Look for WVU to try to mix up their defenses more than they have all year -- but for it to be effective the players will have to be sharp mentally.
WVU also has to begin settling on a rotation, no matter who the top eight is going to be. Right now, WVU's best eight are Moss, Armstead, Hargett, Schifino, Sally, Oliver and Yeager. We know that leaves West Virginia shorthanded up front, but if those are the best, those are the ones that need to be on the floor.
Jim Boeheim ranks 10th in wins by an active coach with 614, while Gale Catlett is 14th with 564. Boeheim, Catlett and Virginia Tech's Ricky Stokes are the only current BIG EAST Conference coaches who have been with their institutions throughout their program's affiliation with the league.
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WVU has played Syracuse well in the Big East conference, and always seems to give the Orangemen a tough game in Morgantown. Syracuse holds a slim 5-4 lead in conference play over the Mountaineers.
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Chris Moss has scored double figures in all 13 games this season. Dating back to last season, Moss has scored double digits in 20 straight games and 23 of his last 24.
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The last time West Virginia defeated a Top 25 team was last year's 87-76 win over No. 10 Syracuse on Feb. 17, 2001 at the Coliseum. The Orangemen are tenth in one of this week's polls. Deja vu, anyone?