Orange fans have absolutely nothing to complain about through the team’s first two games. Syracuse handled its two inferior opponents without many problems, ultimately withstanding Hampton over the weekend. But, starting tomorrow, fans will be able to evaluate the Orange against an even opponent.
On Thursday, the Orange will square off with Cal for the third straight year. The Golden Bears have started the season 2-0 also, and beat mutual opponent Kennesaw State by 34. This game will be the telling sign for Syracuse fans, though, which is why it is so interesting. Sure, the Orange handled two smaller opponents, but Cal will prove how far this team has come.
Cal has a new head coach this season, and the Bears are missing many key pieces from last year. The leading scorer from last year’s game in Maui, Justin Cobbs, was one of the key players to graduate. Instead, the Orange will have to worry about senior David Kravish, a 6-foot-10 center who is a legitimate scoring threat on the inside. He is scoring 9.5 points per game and grabbing just under five boards. Tyrone Wallace has been the team’s main weapon this season, scoring 20 a game and getting 9.5 boards.
This means that Rakeem Christmas is going to play an even bigger role than he already has for the Orange. He has to avoid foul trouble, like he fell into against Hampton. In addition, he is going to have to defend well to keep the Cal wings in check. Trevor Cooney did score 23 points against Cal last season, so maybe this will be the game to spark his shot.
But, Cal is only the first obstacle for the Orange. If the Orange beats the Bears, it will face off with the winner of the Iowa/Texas game. If the Orange loses, it will play the loser. Iowa and Texas are both better teams than Cal, so the road only gets tougher for coach Boeheim. The Hawkeyes are ranked right under the Orange in the Coaches’ Poll at 25, and Texas is the 10th-best team in the nation.
Regardless of the opponent, the Orange will have to gel together for this Thursday and Friday’s games before it gets blown out of the building. As always, the Orange has the advantage of the 2-3 zone, but unless the team can find consistent scoring from the guards, it won’t stand a chance. Cal, Iowa, and Texas all have size and legitimate scoring threats. All three teams are averaging over 40 rebounds and at least 85 points a game. The Orange hasn’t faced this kind of size and experience yet with this year’s watered-down lineup, so it will be a very telling two days at Madison Square Garden.
Posted: Jason Weingold