The Syracuse Orange head to Connecticut on Wednesday to take on the Huskies in a Big East road game. The Orange sit at 20-3 (8-2) and are tied for first place in the conference. Though the Huskies sit in the middle of the standings, they could still present a challenge for the Orange.
Anytime Syracuse and Connecticut get together, there's always a chance for a great game. One needs to only think back to 2009, when the Orange defeated the Huskies in a six-overtime thriller.
Syracuse leads the all-time series against UConn 54-36.
Few would expect anything different this time around when the two teams hook up on Wednesday night. Syracuse is the superior team this year and should be able to get out of the XL Center with a victory. The Orange are one of the top teams in the nation and are led by a talented mix of veterans and youngsters who play well together.
If Syracuse plans on beating the Huskies and staying on top of the Big East, the following keys to the game must be followed.
Foul shooting has been a problem for the Syracuse all season. Currently, the Orange are tied for 209th in the country, shooting just 67.8 percent from the charity stripe. That number could be a major roadblock if they want to make a long run in the NCAA tournament.
In their first loss of the year, an 83-79 against Temple, the Orange shot a miserable 55.9 percent, converting on just 19-of-34 attempts from the foul line. In a loss to Villanova, Syracuse shot 68.6 percent, but missed key free throws late in the game.
Forward C.J. Fair leads the team, shooting 83 percent from the stripe. Big man Baye Keita is the worst of all current players, converting just 48.4 percent from the free throw line. Michael Carter-Williams, arguably Syracuse's best player, is fifth on the team, shooing just 72.2 from the line.
In its most recent game, a 77-58 victory over St. John's, Syracuse went 9-10 from the line. That trend needs to continue throughout the rest of the season.
Nothing kills momentum and changes a game like missed foul shots. The Orange need to take advantage of mistakes my by the Huskies and make a high percentage of free throws in order to get out of Connecticut with a victory.
Syracuse enters Wednesday's matchup with the Huskies ranked 10th in the country in rebounding, averaging 40.7 boards a game. However, the Orange were outrebounded in two of their three losses this season.
Rebounding played a big part in the loss to Pittsburgh as Syracuse was unable to get many second-chance opportunities as the Panthers dominated on the glass. Syracuse was outrebounded 37-21 by the Panthers.
The team has taken a hit in the rebounding department in recent weeks. The suspension of James Southerland and an injury to DaJuan Coleman has caused 'Cuse to see its numbers drop. However, with Southerland returning on Sunday, the rebound numbers should go back up.
Connecticut has been poor on the glass this season, ranking 258th in that category with just 32.6 rebounds a game. The Orange should be able to control the boards in this one, limiting extra opportunities for the Connecticut offense to score.
Freshman Jerami Grant has really stepped up in recent weeks. That trend needs to continue against the Huskies. The forward was averaging around 10 minutes a game before he replaced James Southerland in the rotation off the bench.
Over the past two games, with DaJuan Coleman out with an injury, Grant has been placed into the starting lineup and is now an important key to the Orange's success.
His best game of the season was a 63-47 victory over Notre Dame on February 4th. Against the Irish, Grant poured in 14 points with six rebounds and a block.
Even with the return of Southerland, the Orange have just eight scholarship players remaining in the rotation, so it's going to be important for everyone to step up their game. Grant has done that so far and it will need to continue against the Huskies on Wednesday night.
While UConn has struggled at times this season, its backcourt has played extremely well and is the foundation of the team. The Huskies run a three-guard lineup with Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun.
The trio leads the team in scoring, with Napier at the top, averaging 17 points a game. Boatright contributes 15.6 a game and Calhoun pitches in 11.1 points a game. Napier is also second on the team in rebounds, pulling down 4.3 boards a game.
Beyond the backcourt, the biggest contributor is forward DeAndre Daniels. The sophomore scores 10.9 points and gathers 4.9 rebounds a game.
With the majority of the production coming from the guards, Syracuse knows what it has to do on defense against the Huskies. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams will have their hands full with the UConn backcourt.
Shutting the group down and forcing other players to step up will be the key to a victory on Wednesday night.
Sure, this one sounds like common sense. If a team makes its shots from the field, it should win. However, its going to be important for the Orange to knock down as many shots as possible against the Huskies. For the season, 'Cuse is ranked 93rd in the nation, shooting just 44.9 percent from the field on the year.
Rakeem Christmas leads all Syracuse starters, shooting 57.4 percent from the field.
In their last two losses, the Orange shot just 33 percent and 37 percent respectively. In the 65-55 loss at Pittsburgh, Syracuse really struggled, scoring just 25 points in the first half. The 55 total points tied a season-low for the Orange.
If Syracuse comes out cold at UConn, it could be long night. Though the Orange will be favored, poor shooting could quickly turn the matchup into a tightly contested game.
Taking high-percentage shots and converting from the field will necessary in order to come out victorious.