Syracuse begins a rather brutal stretch of games tonight in a crucial matchup against Louisville. After its meeting with the Cardinals, a few of the Orange’s final five opponents include No. 1 Duke, No. 8 North Carolina, and No. 3 Virginia, but for now, the focus is solely on the task at hand.
Returning home after a 15-point loss at NC State, a bounce back win against the No. 18 team in the country would perhaps spark some needed momentum down the stretch.
The Cardinals find themselves ranked in their first season under new head coach Chris Mack. At 18-8, their record isn’t really superior to that of the unranked, 17-8 Orange. However, three of LU’s eight losses have come recently in their last five games – a stretch that featured four consecutive games against ranked opponents. Those losses were to No. 9 North Carolina, No. 22 Florida State, and No. 2 Duke.
Louisville remains in the rankings despite the recent unfavorable results, and it’s not incredibly difficult to understand why. So far on the year, the Cardinals have victories over No. 9 Michigan State, No. 12 North Carolina, No. 21 NC State, and No. 11 Virginia Tech.
As for Syracuse, the Orange has losses to Georgia Tech, No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 22 Florida State, and NC State since the start of conference play. On the flip side, Louisville has had considerably more success than SU against those teams, notching wins over three of the four (only loss was in overtime by 5 @FSU).
Winners in three of its last six, the Orange has suffered from some vexing inconsistency after a 7-1 eight-game run (including a win at Duke) in the middle of the season. Syracuse enters tonight following a poor showing at NC State – a particularly frustrating outcome after wins in consecutive road games against BC and Pitt. In the two games leading up to last Wednesday’s loss in Raleigh, the Orange lost to an impressive FSU team, but beat BC in The Dome.
The play of SU’s key players has also been fairly indicative of the team’s inconsistent results. It’s reasonable to suggest that Tyus Battle has been the most consistent of the bunch, but that doesn’t necessarily say much.
Elijah Hughes has failed to reach 8 points in four of Syracuse’s last six games, Oshae Brissett has shot 5 of 20 from the field in the last two, and Frank Howard hasn’t always been stellar either. In addition, Buddy Boeheim has been occasionally effective, but at other times… not so much – not to mention the lack of production from the bigs as well.
Battle, however – even as the team’s most consistent player – has encountered some recent struggles of his own. The junior has posted solid outings in three of his last five, but in the two where he hasn’t, it’s been pretty ugly.
Those two poor performances have been in the Orange’s last two games away from home – an ugly win over Pitt and a far more hideous loss to NC State. In those two games, Battle tallied a combined 13 points on 5 of 22 shooting (0 of 4 from three). Tonight’s matchup is on The Hill, however, where the New Jersey native has eclipsed 20 points in three of his last four outings.
Syracuse currently is a 1.5-point favorite for tonight’s matchup – a position the Orange certainly should not take for granted. Louisville comes in stumbling a bit, even if it has been against quality opponents. With that said, maybe the Orange is catching the Cardinals at the right time.
Tipoff tonight is at 7:00.