Before I give you my mostly biased version of a Syracuse game preview, I feel an introduction is due. After all, I am the new guy around here. I used to host a three hour sports talk show in a microscopic market (I also worked for a newspaper). I have since left sports radio for the world of small market TV news (I'm probably a poor man's Brick). Luckily, Sean has been gracious enough to give me some space here, allowing me a chance to go on and on about all things Orange again. On to the preview!
I'll say this; it can be real odd sometimes, this college basketball thing. The Syracuse Orange and the Huskies of Connecticut battle Saturday at 9 p.m. It's another round of ESPN's Game Day for the Orange, this time the road version. Syracuse can clinch the Big East regular season championship out right (other games could factor in as well) at the same time delivering a death blow to Connecticut's fading NCAA hopes. SU fans everywhere are wiping drool from their mouth thinking about winning the title against the hated Huskies, while at the same time effectively ending their season. Not to mention the fact the game is on national TV and in Connecticut no less!
The oddity of watching Connecticut struggle so mightily a year after winning the national championship has been, well, odd. SU is No. 2 while the Huskies aren't even in the 'others receiving votes' section! Adding to the weirdness is the health of Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun. He's out for at least two more games while dealing with spinal stenosis. It's unfortunately yet another bout of bad health for the soon to be 70 year old head coach. This past November Jim Boeheim and Calhoun were neck and neck in total career wins. Now, after watching his team struggle before taking his medical leave, Calhoun's sitting 18 wins behind the Orange head man. We may be witnessing the end of Calhoun's coaching reign. While we as SU fans are ingrained to hate Connecticut, everyone should recognize Syracuse v. Connecticut is no rivalry without Calhoun. Just think of what happened to Syracuse's rivalry with Georgetown. It's all fun to hate the Hoyas but after John Thompson Jr. left the program the rivalry was never the same. The Orange may not just be ending Connecticut's season, they may help send Calhoun into retirement. Changing the face of a rivalry forever (well, that and the fact SU is bolting to the ACC and Connecticut is staying in whatever the Big East will become).
Conversely, the Orange have been riding high (albeit enduring a weird season of their own). But, Syracuse does draw a vague comparison to the New England Patriots. Much like SU now, the Patriots cruised through the regular season, piling up big numbers while hiding some glaring weaknesses. I'm not implying the Orange are set up for failure like Brady's Pats, I'm pointing out the obvious. SU, despite the impressive win-loss record and overall ranking, needs work. Specifically on the interior of its zone (and the half-court offense can be down right offensive, ayoo!). A team like Connecticut, which averages 3 more boards a game than SU, may be able to exploit Syracuse's weaknesses. Finding the Huskies' big Andre Drummond will be key for Syracuse. Drummond pulled down 11 boards in Connecticut's crazy OT win at Villanova on Monday. If he and Alex Oriakhi are left alone in the paint when Syracuse shoots the ball, there will be a lot of one and done possessions for the Orange. A far too common occurance this season. Of course, I haven't even mentioned Jeremy Lamb (who put up 32 against Nova) and the obligatory 'bad shooter who will get hot against SU' (a common feature of any and all Syracuse games). You can see why some experts are waiting to bury the Huskies until after the out come of this game. Connecticut's in a strange position here, the talented underdog who can still save their season.
I don't think anyone, including the most die hard of fans, has Syracuse blowing past the underachieving Huskies like they did late in their first game. They've got size and scorers, and the Huskies will be backed by a rowdy crowd. I'm certain that will have a big impact on the first 5 to 10 minutes. By the way, how many times can we watch SU, home or away, open up a game bricking shots while the opponent swishes 30 footers? Seriously, I want to know because I am sick of it. This game already has the smell of 12 - 2 causing Boeheim to call a quick timeout. After that, it'll be close. Annoyingly close. Which leads me to Scoop Jardine. I threw this out on Twitter Wednesday, we all know that SU is going to be down 8 to 10 points in the second half of a Sweet 16 game, right? This is a fact. And we all know SU will win that game if, and only if, Jardine takes over in a good way, right? Dion Waiters can score, Kris Joseph can do the little things, but it's Scoops' team. Period. Sorry Hubert Davis, Scoop is the 'go to' guy, maybe not always in 'crunch' time, but at key moments. You've seen this scenario more than you think, including Wednesday against South Flordia. He turns the ball over too much, he does bizarre things on the court sometimes, but when SU needs it, Jardine has been the one to deliver. Scoop will have to play well and hit shots early and, more than likely, late in this game. It's Scoop's world. As I said, this college basketball thing, it's weird.