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Game 15: vs. Syracuse Orange pregame

Listen/ See: The Beatnuts, Watch Out Now (video, opens in a new window)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
: Syracuse | Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
: ESPNU | Radio: Bloomberg 1130 | Internet: ESPN3
Opposition blog/ message board
: Troy Nunes Is A Magician | Orange: 44 | Cuse Country

See also: SB Nation NY: Syracuse Orange Vs. St. John's Red Storm: The Fight For 'Home-Court' Advantage

Pomeroy page

We're definitely looking forward to the game... we're looking forward to just getting them off our backs. - DJ Kennedy, pregame interview

The Syracuse Orange (16-0, 3-0 Big East) got a competitive game in the Dome back in 2008, with a young freshman Justin Burrell working hard in the paint and looking like a future star, and with [others making plays]. Since then, the Red Storm (10-4, 3-1 Big East) and the Orange have met twice... and the Orange have blown the Storm out, hearing the adulation of fans even in Madison Square Garden.

Bob Wenzel's line in that loss at the Garden (recap linked above) about hearing the "jingle of car keys" from the Red Storm section has stuck with me, years after the game. It was horrifying, not just for the home loss to the Orange, but for the comfort the Orange fans felt -cheering, throwing free t-shirts BACK onto the court...

I can't believe these Orange clad, snow-capped peoples believe their school's marketing department - that Syracuse is New York's team.

Oh, this will not stand.

Syracuse?! Syracuse, though pleasant enough, is a completely different New York! If Syracuse is New York's team, New York City should secede! Syracuse is Canada!* The Red Storm fans have to Take the Garden Back. We need rallies. We St. John's fans need to fight this tyranny.

Part of the problem is that, despite the hubris of Syracuse fans, it's not just them.  The Cuse's boast isn't entirely idle. The lack of success from St. John's - and even Rutgers and Seton Hall - means that schools like 'Cuse and Duke can routinely schedule games in the New York area when they do not represent New York. Like this is their home.

This will not stand.

This season is, in part, about regaining the respect of the league and putting the home fans back in the seats. New York City may be welcoming to all the poor, tired, yearning to be free of upstate ice... but New York still has a home team. St. John's. Will the Red Storm win? We hope they will. But beating Syracuse has to be a goal for St. John's, part of a climb to respectability. May it start tonight.

*I kid about Syracuse being Canada. I kid because I like Syracuse. My father-in-law lived in Syracuse. But New York's team? GALLING.

Storm Warnings, Keys to the Game, and more, after the jump.

Storm Warnings: Syracuse

Syracuse is 16-0. Great record by Jim Boeheim's squad... but that record has some interesting notes to it. 

For one, the previous Big East game against Seton Hall was the Orange's FIRST game outside of New York State... in Newark, NJ.  (I was reminded that Syracuse went far afield... to Atlantic City.) It's also the first game that is considered an "away" game; and their fans were in Seton Hall's Prudential Center. If St. John's fans make it out to the game despite the heavy snowfall warnings, perhaps the crowd will feel like hostile territory for Syracuse.

Second, Syracuse has found themselves staving off teams like Iona, who should have wilted under the fruity fist of the Orange, and squads like William and Mary. Despite talent like Kris Joseph and shooters like Dion Waiters, Syracuse sometimes struggles to score. They have won a lot of games, and beaten good opponents by playing their style, dominating on defense. 

The Red Storm have surprised teams that were originally thought to be better. Their zone has also been effective, their care for the ball has given them a chance to stay in games.  And since the last 2 weeks of December, the only team that has beaten them is a squad with a versatile set of three-point threats. Syracuse wins in different ways, in uglier games... and St. John's would welcome a bit of ugly.

Are they a tough team? You bet. Are they beatable? I think they won't go undefeated, at the very least.  They have some obvious strengths and flaws.

Strengths/ Weaknesses

Syracuse strength Dictating through the zone. Syracuse, despite not getting big minutes or impact from freshman Fab Melo, manages to have an incredible defense.  How?  They restrict 3-point shooting (27.6% shooting from opponents) and teams take a lot of those shots. And the Orange gets opponents into the paint in a position where a shot blocker can erase the attempt. The defense inside the arc isn't elite, and the Red Storm could get some points inside.

Syracuse strength Maintaining possessions. The Orange turn the ball over 16.7% of their possessions, which is top 15 in the nation. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine are the ones with the most turnovers, by the way.

Syracuse negative Shooting? The team's 3pt percentage is 33.9%. Functional, but unspectacular, especially when the player who has taken the most outside shots is shooting 28% on his perimeter shot (Scoop Jardine). That said, sometimes the Orange can really fill it up, and sometimes, they can't get any offensive flow.

Syracuse negative Rebounding. Outside of Rick Jackson, the team hasn't rebounded well outside of Rick Jackson. Are they in trouble if Jackson has a bad night?  Possibly. The Johnnies owe it to the world to find out.

Keys to the Game


Control the Pace. St. John's can't win this game if it ends up an up and down affair. A slow paced game means the Johnnies are taking a long time on their possessions and not turning the ball over. Dwight Hardy, Malik Boothe, and other ballhandlers have to make sure the team runs their sets.

Slow Down Transition Scoring. Syracuse has some players who are excellent in transition.  But sometimes the Orange struggle in the halfcourt and from the perimeter; St. John's can't allow easy points if they hope to win.Smart shooting and defensive balance from the point guards is key.

Movement.  In the halfcourt, St. John's has to make the Syracuse 2-3 zone move, not settling for outside shots.  This has to come by getting the ball inside to a threat, kicking the ball back out, and seeing what opportunities are there to shoot or drive. Then they can look for perimeter shots. No desperation outside heaves from Justin Brownlee; and Dele Coker's mid range jump shot could help make the Orange zone move.

Offensive Rebounding. St. John's needs to be get second chance opportunities... and hopefully get the 'Cuse's forwards into foul trouble. Justin Burrell and DJ Kennedy will be needed to make some plays, and possibly Dwayne Polee II as well.

Turnovers. St. John's also can't give up scoring opportunities to Orange pressure or traps within the 2-3 zone.  And if St. John's can force some turnovers, via Paris Horne's pressure, that would be a welcome surprise.