Preview: West Virginia - Syracuse

West Virginia goes into the Carrier Dome needing a win in a game in which it's capable of getting just that.


The 20th-ranked team in the nation is floundering. Injuries and a brutal Big East slate have combined to crush the Orange after a hot start. Losses in four of the last five games has left head coach Jim Boehiem's crew battling West Virginia for among the expected final NCAA bids to come out of the league, with the head-to-head match-up a key in deciding who has an initial edge. SU will be without super freshman Mookie Jones – not a surprise, as Jones' redshirt announcement has been anticipated for weeks after he missed major stretches of time because of a hip injury – and Andy Rautins (ankle) and Arinze Onuaku (knee) could be limited. The latter two practiced during the week after missing the Providence game, and are expected to play.

Rautins, a 6-5, 193-pound guard, has started 10 games, including all eight in-conference. Nearly all his shots come from three-pint range (152 of 181), where he is making 38.2 percent. The junior averages 10.5 points per game, and is typically good for a few steals and about 28 minutes. Onauku, 6-9, 258 pounds, is an inside-only player. The junior forward averages 11 points per game and is making 70 percent from the field, but is the player to foul in late-game situations. He has hit just 35.3 percent from the stripe, by far the worst on the team and among the worst in the nation to have taken more than 50 shots. The Maryland native is grabbing about seven to eight boards per outing.

Instead of those two, the starting lineup will feature guards Jonny Flynn (6-0, 186 lbs.) and Eric Devendorf (6-4, 178 lbs.) and forwards Rick Jackson (6-9, 235 lbs.), Kristof Ongenaet (6-8, 215 lbs.) and Kris Joseph (6-7, 220 lbs.). The backcourt is the main attraction, with Flynn among the top point guards in the league and Devendorf among the players that can both hurt and annoy teams most. Flynn is seeing almost 37 minutes per contest in league play and has the ability to create within the lane or in transition, finish around the rim, find open teammates and generally create organized havoc on both ends. He's athletic, skilled and can shoot it, and he has twice the number of assists as turnovers to go with a 17 point-per-game average. Devendorf, back after a brief interlude for allegedly hitting a female Syracuse student, averages 15 points per game, and while not a fantastic spot-up shooter, can hit from anywhere. He won't hesitate to shoot, and he's making 46.7 percent from the floor. He doesn't handle well for a guard, and can play out of control and turn the ball over, something WVU must try to force to slow this tandem.

Other than those two, SU isn't fantastic. Joseph is being inserted because of a lack of bodies, and will get just his third start of the season. He takes chances from the outside, but doesn't have the driving ability commonly seem from the spot for the Orange. His most impressive stat might be his 27 steals, as he has below-average assist-to-turnover numbers, his rebounding isn't great and he is still settling. The numbers should increase with the playing time, but this isn't an SU swingman that can carry teams for stretches. Jackson is the best of the bunch. Packing some size and skill, the sophomore shows steady averages of 7.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He is solid around the rim and finishes well and is the team's best rebounder – in terms of boards per minutes played – on the offensive end. He's a space eater on defense, and his 35 blocks are among the Big East's upper echelon. He won't shut down the inside, but he can alter enough shots to make people wary of continually driving. Ongenaet is hitting for a pair of points and four boards, but he is trying to find any touch. His 30.6 percent from the floor is unacceptable, especially for a senior, and he's doing nothing special anywhere else.

Boeheim will be limited on the bench. The injuries and the fact that the Orange have gone just seven deep all season have to be concerning in a conference with this depth and ability. Forward Paul Harris will get a look, but that's about it. The 6-5, 228-pound junior has started 20 of 21 games appeared in, but was recently relegated to the bench for the game versus Providence. He is expected to come off the pine again, and does provide a nice punch from there. Averaging 13 points and eight rebounds, Harris is great on the interior but doesn't offer much from long range. He has very good quickness and athleticism, and should be able to give the coaching staff major minutes and fill-in as needed.


Syracuse is shooting well, is managing close to as many turnovers forced as given in Big East play, and has forged a near split on the glass as well. The problem is that other teams – like Louisville, Pitt and Georgetown – have more size and skill in most areas. This isn't a great Syracuse squad, and indeed is middle-of-the-pack in the league. The Orange have beaten Rutgers, DePaul, USF and Seton Hall, which reads like the definition of also-rans. It jumped up to nip Notre Dame, getting them at a time in which the Irish were (are) quickly slipping. But the talent just isn't there to be competitive (read: play within 10 points) of the conference's elite. It's much the same for West Virginia, with one difference: the Mountaineers are better challenging all foes, and have found a way to at least cover, if not totally overcome, the injuries faced.
Game Info
Wed. Feb. 4
7 p.m. EST

Carrier Dome
WVU 15-6, 4-4
Syracuse 17-5, 5-4
Syracuse 29-16
Sirius 153 (Syracuse)
WVU - 18
Syracuse - 24

Syracuse is just starting to learn to play without key members, even if those members are only limited and not out. It's a bad time for experimentation. West Virginia will take even great teams out of what they wish to do for stretches – like the second half against Louisville – and if there aren't many other options, then WVU begins to make its charge. SU doesn't have enough weapons to win if Devendorf and Flynn don't play well, the same way it's tough for the Mountaineers to win if Da'Sean Butler and another player don't carry some load. The flavor of this game, apart from location, seems to favor West Virginia as it approaches, but the venue is difficult to win in, and can cause havoc with those that haven't been there. That's everyone except for Alex Ruoff for WVU, meaning every other player will be getting a first experience at a very large arena in which shooting can be difficult.

That should not decide it, though, and it reads here the road team has an inside track via its defense and ability to play physically and eliminate what the other staff wishes to do. SU's size should allow West Virginia to get on the boards, and if it can keep the Orange from second chances and getting hot from three-point range, it should be able to find enough offense to win. This is a key swing game. It starts the stretch of the last 10, and though it won't be included in the NCAA Selection Committee's Last-10 stat because of Big East Tournament play, it could well decide what place the teams finish. A win for one gives it the season series because there is only the one meeting, and at 5-4 (SU) and 4-4 (WVU), and teams are as close to the eight to nine spot as one will find. This shapes up to be a defensive battle, and one which could decide a key slot as the season draws to a close.


WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder – will miss rest of season).

Syracuse: Mookie Jones, out (hip – will miss rest of season). Andy Rautins, probable (ankle). Arinze Onuaku, probable (knee).


Bob Huggins has never played Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. His 1992-93 Cincinnati team won two NCAA Tournament games in the facility, topping Coppin State and New Mexico State. This is just the second meeting between Huggins and SU's Jim Boeheim, despite both being ranked in the top four in wins on the active coaching list. Huggins won the first game when WVU beat the Orange 81-61 last year in Morgantown.

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Huggins played against Boeheim when he was in his senior season at West Virginia. Boeheim was in his first season as head coach at Syracuse. Huggins scored 11 points in an 86-71 loss at SU's Manley Field House. Four then-Orangemen reached double figures, including players with 19 and 18 points.

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West Virginia remains unbeaten (36-0) under Huggins when outshooting foes.

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Though it has lost three in a row, Syracuse is 12-2 at home this year, including 3-1 in Big East games. SU will try for its 30th series win in a match-up that dates to 1916-17. The Orange had won eight in a row before WVU snapped its series streak last season. The Mountaineers last played in the Carrier Dome in 2006. They are just 1-7 in the Dome, the lone win coming in 1996.

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Alex Ruoff is the lone Mountaineer ever to play in the Carrier Dome. He did so as a freshman.

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