SCOUTING THE ORANGE
Syracuse is doing what Syracuse does, namely stay in the 2-3 zone, force foes into poor outside shots and play intelligent, low-turnover basketball. The Orange are not exceptionally big this year, even with a couple players 6-10 or taller, and don't have an ace three-point shooter that can hit the huge buckets at key times. That has hurt as head coach Jim Boeheim continues to try and find combinations that are most effective. He might have found one against Louisville, when the coach chose to play a bit smaller, and watched his program rally from a dozen points down to get very close at the end before losing.
West Virginia would appear to match-up better with the smaller SU lineup, as the 6-10 or taller crowd is a difficult get for WVU's lesser size. Still, Boehiem has slated the smaller of his two centers to start in Baye Moussa Keita (6-10, 220 lbs.). Keita averages less than three points with 4.3 rebounds, and his offensive game is still developing. The freshman isn't particularly intimidating on the defensive end, either, but he is better than 7-0 counterpart Fab Melo. This is a defensive move for Boeheim, and perhaps the coach thinks his team would be better suited being able to match defensive efforts than try to score on WVU when not many in the league have been able to do so well.
The rest of the frontcourt is very experienced, with power forward Rick Jackson (6-9, 240 lbs.) and three man Kris Joseph (6-7, 207 lbs.). Both average between 13 and 15 points and play the most minutes on the team. Jackson, a senior, is sticking an amazing 57.5 percent of his shots. He can score from anywhere inside about 10 to 12 feet, but is just a 50 percent free throw shooter. Jackson is relentless on the boards (11.2 per game) and he has a team-best 59 blocks. This is a great overall athlete with as much experience as one can have in the college game. Jackson will be a tough match for Kevin Jones on offense, and Jones won't be able to drag him out beyond the arc as he would a team playing man defense. Keep an eye on the points battle between this two, as a large discrepancy will almost surely mean a West Virginia loss. The Mountaineers haven't consistently shown they can match SU's backcourt punch, so staying in the game in the frontcourt is big.
Joseph, a junior, is the best three-point shooter on the team at 37.2 percent. He doesn't live and die on the shot, though, and indeed will try to get the ball inside and to the line. He's solid at the stripe (70 percent) and is a good rebounder, though not close to as good as Jackson. Joseph will also turn the ball over more than Boeheim likes – but he'll make some steals, too. WVU must be aware of his defensive ability and show solid hands and toughness controlling possession.
Point guard Scoop Jardine (6-2, 190 lbs.) is having an above-average sophomore season at more than 12 points and seven assists per game. His ratio is better than two to one in assists to turnovers, and he scores from anywhere on the floor and at the line. He is excellent at drawing contact and is arguably the best on-ball defender on the team. Joe Mazzulla is likely to draw Jardine on defense, and he will need to play tightly on the guard and rely on help if beaten off the dribble. This defensive match on both ends should be enjoyable to watch, as both players are high-octane and play full-go all the time.
Two-guard Brandon Triche (6-4, 198 lbs.) shoots it about like Jardine (45 percent overall, 34 from three), but doesn't get to the line or attack the bucket as well. He is more of a jump shooter, and not as solid on defense. Truck Bryant has a height issue with which to deal, but should be able to get some decent outside looks against the 2-3. He'll need to make some if West Virginia excepts to get just its second win against Syracuse ever in the Dome – and the first in more than a decade.
|Mon. Feb. 14
7 p.m. EST
WVU 16-8, 7-5
Syracuse 20-6, 7-6
WVU - 19
Syracuse - 20
Boeheim's bench is heavy on frontcourt players, with just freshman Dion Waiters (6-4, 215 lbs.) seeing any time as a guard. Waiters, out of Philadelphia, is more of a scorer than passer, averaging just six points in about 16 minutes. Waiters hasn't hit well from three-point range, but won't hesitate to shoot from outside. He is an excellent free throw shooter and plays better defense than one would expect just 25 games into a college career. He flashes very good quickness, will hound opposing ballhandlers and has the length for steals (he's tied for third most on the team with 31).
The biggest, quite literally, matchup problem for West Virginia is center Fab Melo (7-0, 244 lbs.). His daunting height and reach are exceptional, and he can hit from around the rim. He sees less than 10 minutes a game, but against a smaller team like West Virginia, Boeheim might be well served to insert Melo for stretches to see how the Mountaineers can handle the size.
The other two main reserves are forwards James Southerland (6-8, 210 lbs) and C.J. Fair (6-8, 203 lbs.). Southerland, a sophomore, scores five points to go with 2.6 rebounds a game. He has a nice outside shot, and actually operates better farther from the hoop. He isn't comfortable on the drive and has shot just eight free throws this season. The Mountaineers must be aware of him beyond the arc. Fair, another newcomer, hits for six points and 3.4 rebounds a game in playing little more than 16 minutes – which seems to be about the amount the SU staff likes for most backups. Fair attacks the bucket much more effectively and will try to bull past defenders. He has shot just three threes all year, but gets a lot of putback and point blank hoops close in. These are a pair of quality younger players who provide solid minutes for Syracuse.
Syracuse is a bit younger than it typically is this season, but the coaching staff is still getting very balanced scoring across the starting line-up and in the front and backcourts. The Orange are playing their typical style, spreading the ball around well, getting far more assists than turnovers and using that vaunted 2-3 zone that forces foes into poor outside shots if not attacked correctly. Syracuse isn't huge this season, but it does have a pair of 6-10 or taller players. The best is a freshman without much offensive development, but that doesn't hinder much with four other starters with at least 11 points per game each. SU shoots decently from the field and three-point range, will take runout points when available and allows very few second-chance points.
West Virginia must attack the zone well, splicing between the top pair of players and dumping down or moving the ball into the sides to hit a cutter, who can then feed an open player as the 2-3 shifts. Rebounding will be a key, as will turnovers. WVU needs to continue to play solid three-point defense – the Mountaineers lead the Big East in the category – and limit SU's good outside looks. If it can do that, rebound well and play a full 40 minutes of its grinding style, it should have a chance to steal a game on the road.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season.
Syracuse: F DaShonte Riley (Foot) Out for Season.
This is West Virginia's first game in the Carrier Dome since it defeated Washington and Kentucky to advance to last year's Final Four. The Mountaineers have not won in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse since 1996. That is the longest streak for any of WVU's Big East foes.
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Huggins is 4-1 in the Dome. The lone loss is with West Virginia, a 74-61 defeat in 2009. Boeheim is trying to avoid his 300th career loss in 35 seasons. He could gain his 850th win.
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WVU is 20-9 all-time on Valentine' Day and 493-374 all-time in February.
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The Mountaineers are 69-11 under Huggins when scoring 70 or more points. He is tied with Gale Catlett for the most Big East road wins (17) by any Mountaineer coach. John Beilein had 13.
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Syracuse has won 11 of the last 12 series meetings. WVU's last win was in 2008. Since both teams became members of the Big East, the Mountaineers are 5-16 versus the Orange.