The Orange has survived some tough road environments, including most recently the RAC and Yum! Center, en route to 28-1 this season. But SU will face its toughest test yet tonight in Connecticut against a desperate Huskies team.
The crowd promises to be a frenzied one at Gampel Pavilion for several reasons: UConn needs a win to secure an NCAA tournament birth, it’s rare the Huskies play a big name opponent like Syracuse on campus in Storrs, and College Gameday primetime games always seem to have a little bit more juice.
The Huskies have almost slid their way back to the tournament bubble by losing seven of their last ten games, falling to 17-10 on the season and under .500 in Big East play at 7-8. For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Bracketology has UConn in the tournament as a 10-seed, which is anything but a guaranteed ticket to the dance.
One thing UConn can do to punch its ticket for an at-large bid however, would be a win over the #2 Orange. The biggest holes in the Huskies’ resume is that sub-.500 conference record, and a troubling lack of quality wins. They’ve only beaten two teams currently ranked in the top 25 (Florida State and Notre Dame). A win over Syracuse would do wonders to remedy both of those concerns.
For Syracuse, this is a chance for yet another impressive road win and a confidence boost just before March. It’s also a chance to get its offense back on track. The last time the two teams met at the Carrier Dome, four Orange reached double figures, including a 21-point performance from Scoop Jardine in a 85-67 win.
Most recent opponents have tried to slow the game to a crawl against Syracuse, taking the Orange out of its element and forcing SU to grind out games. Despite its struggles this year, UConn is one of the few teams that can match up with Syracuse athletically, and isn’t likely to employ that tactic. The increased pace of play should give a few key players a chance to get back in the groove offensively, particularly guards Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche. The offensive performance of these two, especially the struggling Triche, has slumped recently. Whether they can get it going will be a key for the Orange moving forward.
This game is an opportunity for the SU to make a statement. The feeling around Orange Nation is that we haven’t seen this team’s best performance in a while. Maybe the big stage of College Gameday, against an arch rival and the defending national champs can bring it out. And delivering a blow to UConn’s tournament hopes would be a pretty nice bonus.
Posted: Steve Neikam