Another Big East battle for West Virginia, and another face off between two of the collegiate game's finest coaches. Get used to it folks. In the rugged Big East, matchups such as Boeheim vs. Huggins are par for the course.
Boeheim, far and away the dean of the league's coaches, brings his young but talented Orange into the Coliseum looking to get back on the winning track after falling at upstart Cincinnati on Wednesday night. SU currently shows a record of 12-4, 2-1 in Big East play.
Leading the way for Syracuse is talented freshman forward Donte Green. Just as he did six years ago with SU legend Carmelo Anthony, Boeheim went into Maryland to bring one of the nation's most sought after and versatile players to central New York. During Anthony's one and only collegiate season, he carried the Orange to the national title. While Green may not be quite as talented overall as Melo, his presence is every bit as important to this year's Syracuse team as Anthony's was in 2002-03.
Green's average of 19.4 ppg leads both Syracuse and the Big East, and he gets his points in a variety of ways. At 6-10, he's big enough to score from the post. His ability to not only score with his back to the basket but also face up and take it to the hoop make him a difficult defensive assignment no matter who the opponent is. Further complicating things for the defense is Green's shooting ability from the perimeter. In six of his last seven games, Green has made at least three 3s, and has pulled the trick in 11 of 15 games overall.
Another freshman, point guard Jonny Flynn, got off to a roaring start for Boeheim and company with a 28-point outburst against Siena. For the season, the Niagara Falls native is averaging better than 14 ppg, having topped the 20-point plateau on four occasions. Flynn's ability to fill it up is enough cause for concern, but when one factors in his pinpoint passing ability, the freshman floor general is certainly not a presence to be taken lightly. Flynn currently sits third the Big East with an average of 5.81 assists-per-game. At times, his thirst for making the spectacular play instead of the simple play can result in a turnover parade, but when Flynn is on his game, he is as good as any point guard the Mountaineers have seen this season.
Flynn's high school teammate, sophomore forward Paul Harris, is yet another high-profile Boeheim recruit paying early dividends in the land of the Orange. Harris averages 13.4 ppg, and his rebounding average of 9.4 leaves him just shy of a double-double. Harris has recorded eight double-doubles this season, with the most recent coming in a win last week over USF in which he scored 20 points and pulled down 13 boards.
Junior forward Arinze Onuaku is Syracuse's most consistent low block threat. The Lanham, Md. native boasts a field goal percentage of 68.2, good enough for second in the Big East and fourth in the country as of Jan. 10. Onuaku had a monster game in last week's Big East opener against St. John's, scoring 23 points and snaring 13 rebounds in leading the Orange to the win. Onuaku has scored in double figures 13 times this season, averaging 13.8 points and eight rebounds per contest.
Syracuse is playing without guard Eric Devendorf, the team's heart and soul, after the junior tore his left ACL in a game earlier this season against East Tennessee State. Devendorf recently had successful surgery performed on the knee, and should be good to go by the beginning of next season.
Junior Andy Rautins, one of the SU's top outside shooters a year ago, is also out with a torn ACL suffered while playing for Canada in this past summer's FIBA Americas Championships.
West Virginia has proven to be a much better team at home than on the road. Coming off of Thursday night's blowout loss at Louisville, the Mountaineers are in sore need of a win to even up the conference record.
|Sun Jan. 13
WVU 11-4, 1-2
SU 12-4, 2-1
Syracuse leads 29-15
|Sirius Channel: 127|
WVU - 28
SU - 20
Of course beating any Jim Boeheim coached team is much easier said than done. Despite the loss of Devendorf, the Orange continue to thrive as a force within the Big East.
West Virginia fans in attendance should enjoy watching Green play as there is a pretty good chance the freshman phenom will be one and done in Syracuse just as Anthony was. Green is without a doubt the star to keep an eye on in Sunday's game, as you can all but count on the future lottery pick getting his numbers in an effort to lead the Orange to victory. Harris and Onuaku are also consistent night in and night out for Boeheim's club.
The straw that stirs the drink, however, is Flynn. If the freshman is on his game and making plays from the point, Green, Harris and the rest of the Orange become that much more dangerous. If Flynn struggles, the Mountaineers may be able to escape with their first victory against Syracuse since the 2000-01 season.
Plenty of questions hang in the air as gametime nears. How will West Virginia bounce back from the U of L game? How will Syracuse respond to another rowdy road environment after falling Wednesday night at Cincy? Can anyone stop Green, or will the Mountaineers be content to let him get his and make the rest of the Orange win the game?
This Cuse team is very talented offensively, but Boeheim has stated that the defense leaves something to be desired. If the Mountaineers are hitting their shots, SU could be in for a long day. However if Green, Flynn and Harris are having their way, it will be yet another win for Boeheim over West Virginia.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Probable
Syracuse: Andy Rautins (knee) Out; Eric Devendorf (knee) Out
West Virginia and Syracuse did not meet last season. The last meeting between the two schools was a 60-58 Cuse win during the 2005-06 regular season.
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Though Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins and SU mentor Jim Boeheim have coached a combined 1,846 career games, today's tilt will be the first meeting between the two coaches. As a player, Huggins faced Boeheim's first Syracuse team twice, splitting a pair of games in the 1976-77 season.
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Today's game is part of a doubleheader with the nationally ranked WVU women's basketball team. Mike Carey's club will take the floor at noon for a Top 20 showdown with No. 14 Notre Dame, with the men's game between WVU and SU to follow at approximately 2:30.
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The Carmelo K. Anthony Center is currently under construction on SU's campus. Ground was broken in late September on the facility named for and supported by the current superstar of the NBA's Denver Nuggets. The center will house a pair of practice courts as well as locker rooms and offices to house the Syracuse men's and women's basketball programs.