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College Basketball Preview: Syracuse vs. Louisville

(12)Syracuse Orange @ (16)Louisville Cardinals
KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, KY
Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
Time: 12:03 pm EST
Television: ESPN Dave Pasch, play-by-play; Doris Burke, analyst.
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Doug Ormay, analyst. (also SIRIUS ch. 122, XM 143)
Series History: UofL leads 12-4 (6-1 in Louisville, 2-3 in Syracuse, 4-0 neutral)
Officials: Brian O’Connell, Ed Hightower, Roger Ayer

Louisville gave Notre Dame all they could handle on Wednesday night in South Bend, but fell to the Irish 89-79 in overtime. A win would’ve had the Cards all alone in second place right now, instead they find themselves in a four-way tie for third-thru-seventh spot. Louisville is faced with a similar scenario on Saturday; win and keep foraging forward in pursuit of the highly important top 4 finish and double-bye in the BIG EAST Championship. Lose and, thanks to tiebreakers and other undecipherable factors, drop as low as 11th in the 16-team conference.

Syracuse has feasted on the bottom feeders of the BIG EAST, with five of their seven conference wins being over Cincinnati, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and South Florida. They also beat Notre Dame on New Year’s Day and had an impressive win at Connecticut. After bolting out of the gates to an 18-0 start, the Orange lost four strait and in typical ‘what have you done for me lately’ style were written off by most. But the wins at UConn and at South Florida seemingly brought them back from the brink.

The win over South Florida gave Syracuse their 20th win of the season. Jim Boeheim now has a Division I record with 33 Twenty-win seasons, 14 of em coming in the last 14 years. That is the third longest streak in the nation behind Kansas’ 21 strait and Duke’s 15 strait – Louisville needs two more wins to reach 20 for the ninth consecutive season (only nine schools have a streak that long or longer).

The main players for the Orange are senior forward Rick Jackson, juniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, sophomore guard Brandon Triche, and freshmen Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair. Senior leader Jackson worked hard in the off-season to lose some lbs and get in shape and it is paying off. He is running the floor great and rebounding like a monster, posing a big problem for all opponents down low on the block. Jackson is second on the team in scoring (13.1), leads the ‘Cuse in rebounding and blocked shots, pulling down 11.4 boards per scrap (good enough to lead the BIG EAST and rank fifth in the nation) and rejecting 2.3 shots a game (good for third in the BIG EAST).

Jackson’s high school teammate, Junior Scoop Jardine also finds himself among the leaders in both the BIG EAST conference and the nation. Scoop ranks second in the BIG EAST and 14th in the nation in assists (6.0), and is tied for 10th in the BIG EAST in steals (1.6) and ranks eighth in assists/turnover ratio (2.1-to-1). Jardine is third on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game. Scoop is one of 20 finalists for the 2011 Bob Cousy Award. The Cousy Award is given annually to college basketball’s top point guard.

Syracuse’s leading scorer is junior forward Kris Joseph, at an even 15.0 points per contest – 11th in the BIG EAST. Joseph is also second on the team in rebounding, corralling 4.8 boards a game. He could be considered the Orange’s biggest threat from deep, shooting it from downtown at a 37.4 percent clip and knocking down a team-high 1.4 three balls a game. Joseph is a member of the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. Created in 1976, the Wooden Award is given to the nation’s best player who is making progress toward graduation and maintaining a 2.0 grade-point average.

The only center on the ‘Cuse’s roster is 7-foot big man Fab Melo, a name Cardinal faithful should be familiar with. Melo is averaging just 2.0 points and 1.8 boards in just under 10 minutes (9.9) of action a night despite starting 24 of the Orange’s 25 contests.

Louisville has won six in a row over the Orange, with the last victory being the Freedom Hall Finale last season. Both Cardinal and Orange fans should remember one name from that game: Kyle Kuric. Kuric scored a then career-high 22 points to lead Louisville over top-ranked Syracuse 78-68. He has matured in his junior season and just this past Wednesday against Notre Dame notched a new career high: 28 points. Kuric is averaging 17.8 points and 4.3 rebounds over the last four games, while connecting on 63.2 percent of his shots from the field (24-of-38), including 12-of-21 three pointers (.571). He is 4th in the BIG EAST in three-point percentage (.451) on the season.

Kuric should get plenty of opportunities to torch the Orange again, as the 2-3 zone defense, a fixture in Jim Boeheim’s program for nearly 40 years, has been the main culprit during the Orange’s recent struggles. During their four-game slide following the 18-0 start – Pittsburgh, Villanova, Seton Hall and Marquette shot a combined 51 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range. Louisville’s got some shooters in addition to Kuric, and I expect them – even though it’s an early noon tip – to shoot through the Syracuse zone on their way to another big victory on the Cards’ seeding resume.

Louisville 77, Syracuse 69


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