The Syracuse Orange men's basketball team will face its toughest test of the 2014-15 season Thursday, when it plays the California Golden Bears in a non-conference showdown at Madison Square Garden (9 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The game is a part of the 2K Classic Tournament, which features the winner advancing to the championship game to play either the No. 10 Texas Longhorns or Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday (7 p.m.).
The Orange (2-0) earned double-digit victories in both of their first two non-conference games beating Kennesaw State, 89-42, in the season-opener and Hampton, 65-47, on Sunday. The two wins helped SU extended its current non-conference home winning streak to 53.
Senior center Rakeem Christmas has been the team's best player averaging 18 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Frontcourtmate, freshman forward Chris McCullough, has been the squad's second-best option, as he has averaged 14.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg. McCullough combined to score 16 points and snag 11 rebounds in the SU's season-opener.
|Syracuse Orange (projected starting lineup)||Class||Ht.||Wt.||PPG||RPG|
|Trevor Cooney"]" style="padding: 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom;">Trevor Cooney||Jr.||6'4"||195||10.0||3.5|
|Kaleb Joseph "]" style="padding: 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom;">Kaleb Joseph||Fr.||6'3"||165||4.5||2.5|
|Tyler Roberson"]" style="padding: 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom;">Tyler Roberson||So.||6'8"||212||8.5||6.0|
Meanwhile, Cal (2-0) enters the cross-country contest with a brand new head coach, Cuonzo Martin. The former Tennessee Volunteer headman takes over for Mike Montgomery, who retired during the offseason after six years coaching in Berkeley.
Under Martin's leadership, the Bears have earned early-season victories over Alcorn State, 91-57, and Kennesaw State, 93-59, respectively. Martin brings an up-tempo style of basketball to the West Coast. This style of hoops helped him lead Tennessee to the Sweet 16 last season.
Pacing the team so far has been junior guard Tyrone Wallace, who is averaging 20 ppg and 9.5 rpg after two games. The play helped him earn Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on Monday. Last season, Wallace tallied 21 points, six rebounds and six assists in Cal's loss to the Orange, 92-81, in the Maui Invitational.
Other Cal players that saw action against Syracuse last season are: Senior forward David Kravish, junior guard Jabari Bird and sophomore guard Jordan Mathews. Each have started in Cal's first two games of the season. Last season, Kravish scored 19 points and collected seven rebounds against the Orange, while Bird and Mathews combined for 29 points as a freshman duo.
Coming off the bench will be Cornell University transfer Dwight Tarwater and freshman center Kingsley Okoroh.
|Cal Golden Bears (projected starting lineup)||Class||Ht.||Wt.||PPG||RPG|
|Christian Behrens"]" style="padding: 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom;">Christian Behrens||rJr.||6'8"||226||7.0||4.0|
This will be the third straight season these two programs have played each other, as last season meeting in Hawaii followed up a NCAA Tournament showdown–a 66-60 victory for the Orange in San Jose–in 2013.
In the programs history, SU is 13-2 in five appearance's at the 2K Classic.
Game Time: Approx. 9 p.m. ET (following Texas vs. Iowa).
TV: ESPN 2–John Saunders (play-by-play), Dick Vitale (color), Jeff Goodman (reporter).
Radio: Syracuse IMG Network
Betting Line: Syracuse (-5)
Prediction: Cal 66, Syracuse 61