See what I did there?
The Orange lock up with their first real opponent of the season tonight, the No. 13 Cal Golden Bears. The Bears bring with them the one thing that Jim Boeheim and his 2-3 zone fear most...three-point shooting.
California, the team his Syracuse Orange will face tonight in the 2K Sports Classic, led the nation in 3-point field goal percentage last year. The Bears shot 42.7 percent from 3-point range and return their top three scorers and virtually all of their shooters from last season’s 22-11 team.
In two games this season, Cal is shooting 41.4 percent from long distance. Its top three scorers – Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher – have made nearly 46 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Gack. Christopher is the one player the Orange specifically need to key on. Cal almost always wins when Christopher makes at least 50 percent of his shots. Leave him open all day and the Orange will be playing for a consolation prize on Friday.
The good new is that the Orange should have no problem controlling the game down-low.
SU’s bigs should have no trouble whatsoever dominating Cal’s post players, whose regulars top out vertically at 6′8″ (Sorry, 7′3″ Max Zhang. Maybe one day.). It’ll be business as usual down low for Wes Johnson, AO and Rick Jackson, as long as Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine continue to get them the ball in mistake-free fashion.
The Bears and Orange have never faced off against one another, which is somewhat remarkable. That we've never crossed paths in a tournament along the way considering the history of both programs seems unlikely. But here we are.
The Bears are coached by Mike Montgomery, who you might remember as the guy who made Stanford really, really good ('98 Final Four) and then made the Golden State Warriors really, really bad. But now he's making the Bears really, really good. He's out of prominent Bay Area basketball programs so expect him to stick around for a while.
Montgomery led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament last season, posting a 22-10 record. They lost to Maryland in the first round. Baby steps...
The Orange return to MSG for the first time since the Big East Tournament that will forever be remembered for Six OTs. Wes Johnson might be a newbiw but even he understands how important it is for the Orange to play well in NYC.
"When I got here, everybody was talking about it so much," Johnson said. "Now, I'm looking forward to it and I'm ready to go down there."
If it didn't feel like basketball season had started for SU fans, it will now. And if you need some sort of hyperbole to put things in perspective, Bud Poliquin sets you straight:
Let’s see . . . there’s No. 6/4 North Carolina, No. 13/12 California, No. 15/15 Ohio State and No. 30/24 SU. That’s a semi-Final Fourish kind of field and it’s just what the Orange needs. Albany was nice and Robert Morris was fine, but the sooner these Syracuse guys get a taste of big-time college basketball, the better. And they’re about to get a belly full.
Check out Mike Waters' Scouting Report and get ready for the tip-off at 7pm ET.