Bearcats Look To Stun Syracuse

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I owe my friend Donna Ditota a public apology.


Donna is a sportswriter for the Syracuse Post-Standard, and when I ran into her at Big East Media Day she predicted that Syracuse would be a better team this year despite losing its top three scorers - Jonny Flynn (17.4), Eric Devendorf (15.7), and Paul Harris (12.0).  That's 45 points a game from a team that went 28-10 last season.


I thought Donna was nuts at the time.  I thought she was REALLY clueless on November 3rd when the Orange lost an exhibition game to Division II LeMoyne College.


Three months later, Syracuse is off to the best start in school history at 22-1 and ranked third in the country.  It's pretty obvious that Donna knew what she was talking about.


"To me they're the best team in the country because they shoot 50% from the field (actually 53%) and they only give up 39% on defense," Mick Cronin said.  "They do a great job in their zone.  When you do penetrate their zone they block shots.  That's the backbreaker.  You gotta make sure you finish with strength around the rim against them because you can't get the ball down to the two-foot marker and come away empty.  You have to score or get fouled.  Their passing is excellent.  They get a ton of layups because of their transition, their size, and their passing."


In the LeMoyne loss, Syracuse played man-to-man defense and allowed 82 points - 50 in the second half.  The Orange has stayed in a 2-3 zone ever since and is playing it as well as a Syracuse team ever has.  The top six players in Jim Boeheim's rotation are 6'4", 6'5", 6'7", 6'7", 6'9" and 6'9".  That size has helped Syracuse average 11 steals and 7 blocks per game.


"They play hard," said UC junior Larry Davis.  "Their 2-3 zone is no joke.  They rebound the ball, they can get the ball in the paint, they've got a couple of guys that can really score . . . they're really tough."


In Syracuse's only regular season loss, Pittsburgh hit 10 of 24 three point shots in an 82-72 win.  Cincinnati is going to have to make a few 3-pointers, but the Bearcats are only shooting 30% from outside the arc this season and can't settle for jump shots against the SU zone.


"You're going to have to shoot the ball, the question is, 'Are you shooting open shots?' Coach Cronin said.  "One thing you have to be very careful of against Syracuse is taking bad shots because they just take off down to the other end with the best of 'em.  They've been that way historically - running with the basketball and converting.  They are so good in transition because they play above the rim."


In the past few weeks we've all started projecting what games UC needs to win - and is capable of winning - in order to make the NCAA Tournament.  With the exception of DePaul at home, nothing would shock me in Cincinnati's final eight regular season games.  Syracuse and Villanova are two of the best teams in the country but they are home games for UC and the Bearcats have been tough at Fifth Third Arena (where they also play Marquette).  Cincinnati will be a big underdog at West Virginia and Georgetown but the 'Cats have matched up well against those two schools over the last couple of years.  The Bearcats already have wins over UConn and USF, but can they complete the sweep on the road?


The Bearcats need to win at least half of their remaining regular season games to remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.  To do that, they have to consistently play with the intensity they displayed in Maui.


Super Bowl Sunday at 2:00 would be a good time to start.


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