ESPN asked the question last week, "When will No. 1 Syracuse lose their first game?" Aside from the usual Dana O'Neill answer ("their next one"), most people looked well past the non-conference schedule and about three or four games into the Big East slate before a loss even looked possible.
Like most people, they overlooked Seton Hall. And I suggest Syracuse Orange fans don't make the same mistake.
Seton Hall may or may not be ranked when the polls come out today. Probably not. And if they're not, that says more about the laziness of the voters than the quality of the Pirates. Not only is Seton Hall 11-1 on the year so far but they're also No. 8 in the Real Time RPI with a SOS of 38.
For perspective, Ohio State is No. 21 in the RPI with a SOS of 105. certainly has it right... (And yes, if you're wondering, Syracuse is the No. 1 RPI team in the land with a SOS of 5).
Their schedule isn't littered with any ranked teams but they have played a lot of decent names. They have a lot of quality wins over teams such as VCU, Dayton, St. Joseph's, Wake Forest & Auburn. Their lone loss came at the hands of a 10-2 Northwestern squad.
Gone is shootologist Jeremy Hazell and his 47 attempts per game. This is Herb Pope's team now. Pope is averaging 20.3 PPG and 11.5 RPG. For as much as Fab Melo and the Rakeem Christmas/Baye Moussa Keita duality have contained many frontcourts this season, they haven't seen a test like this yet.
Plus, if Syracuse has a weakness, it's rebounding. We're ninth in the Big East right now and the prospect of Pope and the Pirates dominating the boards will hopefully motivate a change.
Pope's had two rough outings in a row (14 points and 8 points) but before that he was regularly throwing down 25+ a night, including a 32-point effort in the N'western loss.
Meanwhile, guard Jordan Theodore (15.8 PPG) and guard-forward Fuquan Edwin (14.0) aren't to be forgotten. Both have been known to take some shots from three-point range and we all know how much The Hall loves to do that against us.Theodore is coming off a career-high 26-point performance as well.
One thing that could work in Syracuse's favor? If our fans do plenty of talking about Mama and Grandmama Theodore:
"Home games are always easier because you’re playing in front of your fans — they’ve got our pictures up, our faces," Theodore said. "But you go on the road, then they’re talking about your mother, talking about your grandmother. They’re saying all types of things just to get you down and take you out of your rhythm. It’s fun."
It's also a good idea to keep an eye on Aaron Crosby, who averages 7.8 PPG but usually takes 4-5 three-pointers a game, which means he'll take about 20 against us.
If the Pirates' starters can't get anything going against us, don't expect too much production out of their bench.
Meanwhile, the Orange upperclassmen have put their Big East gamefaces on. Kris Joseph said, "It's Big East Time now" and that means the 13-0 start and No. 1 ranking are nice, but they officially mean d**k.
"The leaders have to make sure we’re ready for that big jump,’’ Joseph said. "Practices have to get picked up a notch. The intensity. Everything.’’
Syracuse has gotten here by playing their style of basketball, using a team-first approach and playing solid defense. Not only do they need to keep that up but it's time to fine-tune that defense, find new avenues of scoring on offense and tighten up the rotation. It only gets that much harder from here on out.