These two teams are teams moving in opposite directions from where they started. Connecticut started the season ranked #12 and now find themselves under .500 in the league, unranked, and in the bottom half of the standings. Syracuse is now #2/3 after starting unranked in one poll and barely in the other, they are atop the Big East standings, have a 10 win streak going, and have only lost one game. Syracuse leads the nation in field goal percentage as well. Both teams however, are very good defensively. UConn just outranked Syracuse in field goal % defense by a tenth of a percentage for best in the league at 38.2%. Connecticut in the last few years have been known for their stingy defense, shot blocking, and rebounding. But they lost their main weapon last year to the NBA, so now they rely on a freshman, Alex Oriakhi, for the rebounding and a bench player in Gavin Edwards for the shot blocking. Connecticut's top scorer is Jerone Dyson (19.0ppg, 4.6apg), who was sidelined the second half of the year after tearing his knee up against Syracuse in Gampel last season. Obviously Stanley Robinson (16.2ppg, 7.6rpg) and Kemba Walker (13.3ppg, 5.9apg) have been good for Connecticut as well. This team has talented players but always seem to come up short when truly tested. They are 1-4 when facing ranked opponents this season, and that one win coming at home against fake #1 Texas. We know how great they have been lately. They have lost to Pitt at home, lost to Marquette at home, and lost to Michigan at Michigan. MICHIGAN! They also lost to a Providence team that Syracuse dismantled by 17 points, mostly without Wes Johnson. The signs do not look good for a UConn upset tonight. Not to mention the fact that they are again without Jim Calhoun on the sideline as he did not make the trip from the Constitution State. This team has not won a game on the road in the Big East Conference all season. They also didn't win on neutral floors against teams that are ranked lower than Syracuse. Looking at you Duke. But as I famously say during these previews for rivalry games, the rankings be damned. Anything can happen in a rivalry game if UConn and Syracuse come to play. Arinze Onuaku faced consistent double teams at Cincy and he still managed 11 points. Both he and Rick Jackson will need to be consistent scorers around the basket tonight and not get a cold streak or become too tired. If Syracuse fails to have a consistent inside scoring threat, and Wes Johnson remains limited, we will be in trouble. Syracuse will also have to play excellent defense and prevent the easy transition buckets Robinson loves to get. Some continued good shooting from Kris Joseph is likely, but Andy Rautins will need to contribute some as well. He doesn't need to hit seven or eight treys, but it certainly wouldn't hurt that he hits a few. Additionally, poise on the free throw line will be necessary, as you know Dyson will hit his. Syracuse had seven turnovers against Cincy, and a steady hand is again likely and necessary. Kemba Walker has been a turnover machine as of late and that should only help Syracuse in transition from the top of the zone. This one will again be close in the first half, enticing fans to stick around, but this one should be Syracuse putting the game away past the halfway point of the second half. Look for Syracuse to keep that streak alive and grind the heel into the throat of an already reeling Connecticut team that is looking more and more NIT bound by the week. Syracuse over Connecticut by 14.
Don't forget to submit your guess to try and win a Beat 'Nova t-shirt by the start of the game. For all the details and the place to submit, click here. Also, read my annual Syracuse 1/2 Hate Week Rebuttal over at TheUConnBlog. We often joke with our fellow Big East rival bloggers and the guys over there get it. Good luck to them tonight and thanks again for having me over at your site. However, UConn... U SUCK!