I love rivalry week in college basketball. It is a week filled with excitement, upsets and some of the best regular season basketball.
Unfortunately for the Syracuse Orange, the Big East schedule makers decided to make this rivalry week something else for Jim Boeheim's squad: Hell Week.
The classic US Special Ops term for the toughest week of training can be applied here to the Orange as this will be their toughest span of games, perhaps even more so than the Big East tournament, seeing that these are the top teams in the conference.
Within a span of six days, the Orange will face off at home against rivals Georgetown and UConn and travel on the road to matchup against Louisville. While these teams may not look as dominant as last year, they are still tremendously talented, and Syracuse has a huge target on its back.
The victory over St. Johns showed that with Fab Melo back in the lineup, the Orange are the dominant Final Four contender we all thought them to be. Melo dominated the middle and set up transition opportunities that helped player like Dion Waiters tremendously.
So now that Syracuse looks back to form, how can they survive hell week?
Georgetown: Dominate the Paint
The Hoyas are going to come in ready to play physical and have the men to do it. Freshman Otto Porter is the main man in the middle for them and center Henry Sims is not too far behind in the rebound list.
Shutting down seniors Sims and guard Jason Clark will be the key as these players will run the Georgetown attack. If the Orange dominate down low with Melo, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Moussa Keita and/or C.J. Fair, the Hoyas will not be able to produce points.
The Orange transition game should be too much for Georgetown to handle, especially if James Southerland and Kris Joseph shoot decently from the outside. Both players have fared far better at home than on the road in this regard.
UConn: Grab the Early Lead
After coming off a physical game against Georgetown, it will be apparent that the Orange will be tired going into Saturday's game. However, with the news that Jim Calhoun will be not be on the sideline, the Huskies look very beatable.
With an expected capacity of over 34,000 in the dome for this game, Syracuse must channel this energy into an effort bent on taking the early lead. If the Orange can build a first half 15- to 20-point lead, Boeheim will able to rotate players more frequently to rest for the upcoming Louisville game.
If the Orange cannot do this, I still think they will defeat UConn, but it will make the final test all the more challenging.
Louisville: Make the Shots Count
Louisville and Syracuse may be the most entertaining college game of the year. Both rely on big shot blockers to open up the transition game and want to run the court as much as possible.
Rick Pitino has had the best of his mentor in recent times (just don't tell that to Boeheim), and this game will be huge in maintaining the top spot in the Big East. The way for Syracuse to win is simple: make their shots count.
Against teams like St. Johns or West Virginia, missed shots early one will not bury the Orange. Against the Cardinals, this could be a fatal mistake as they will rebound and run almost instantly.
The Orange, if they are able to be kept fresh in the UConn game, should be able to use their depth to keep rotating players in and beat Louisville at their own game.
Jim Boeheim may not know how to use four guards effectively, but this game will give him the opportunity to use all of them often as keeping Waiters, Scoop Jardine, MCDubz and Brandon Triche fresh will be the difference maker.