It’s late February and the Syracuse Orange basketball team has found themselves shuffling through the Big East standings like a deck of cards at the World Series of Poker. With two games remaining before the Big East Tournament, the Orange stand pat in sixth place at 10-6 in conference play (23-6 overall). Depending on the outcome of the final two games, the Orange can finish as low as 11th and as high as second (more likely third).
The Cuse have fought off the blues with a key win at Villanova. Unlike the previous meeting inside the Dome, the Oranges 2-3 zone got out on shooters allowing just five 3-pointers (they allowed 11 in the first meeting). The Orange overcame early foul trouble and knocked down 13 of their 17 free throws, including big ones down the stretch by a pair of Philadelphia products, Dion Waiters and Rick Jackson, (impressive numbers for the worst free throw shooting team in the conference). The win was the Orange’s sixth victory against a ranked opponent (Michigan State, Notre Dame, UConn, St. Johns and Cincinnati).
On Saturday, the Orange will head to the nation’s capital for a rematch against Georgetown. The Hoyas pulled away late in the first meeting inside the Dome, leaving with a 64-56 victory. The Hoyas found guys on backdoor cuts for easy buckets late. Georgetown had four guys in double figures, led by Austin Freeman’s 14 points. On the glass the Hoyas out rebounded the Orange 28-21, a number that will have to be in SU’s favor for a key road win. Rick Jackson found himself in foul trouble early and if that happens again the Orange will see similar results.
Projection: Syracuse 72, Georgetown 65. Syracuse hasn’t been swept by Georgetown in the regular season since the 2001-02 season, and if Syracuse can play solid defense it won’t change during this campaign.
The Orange have struggled in their half court offense all year and look for that to continue. However, the Orange enter the game second in the country in blocked shots, averaging seven blocks per game. The Orange will need to turn the blocked shots into quick transition buckets. If the 2-3 zone can force turnovers and turn them into quick points they will be more than OK. The zone has been lazy more often than not this season and Georgetown has the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. The Hoyas shoot 38 percent from the outside, second in the Big East.
The half court struggles might be solved if the offensively-illiterate Baye Moussa Keita and Fab Melo found just a hint of consistency. Granted, both are battling injuries but they average a combined 4.5 points per game. The lack of production has allowed teams to focus on Rick Jackson with tough traps in the paint leading to empty trips.
With the Big East Tournament lurking in the near future, the Orange has a lot to gain and just as much to lose in the upcoming games. A win at Georgetown would all but guarantee at least a first-round bye, and then they could eye the all important second-round bye when DePaul arrives in Central New York. The brand of basketball may not be great, but the opportunity is on the Cuse’s doorstep. A pair of wins to close out the regular season and, who knows, this could be a slow dance through March.