Setting: 900 Irving Avenue, in Syracuse New York, is the place as Josh Pastner brings his Memphis Tigers (10-3) to Upstate New York for a non-conference tilt with Jim Boeheim’s No.7 Syracuse Orange (13-1, 1-1).
Plot: It is Conference USA versus the Big East in a game that pits two teams who have combined for 11 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2003. Memphis advanced to the final in 2008 (since vacated) and the Elite Eight in ‘06 and ‘07. Last season the Tigers were eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen. Syracuse won the title in ‘03 and earned Sweet Sixteen berths in ‘04 and ‘09.
Sub-plot: The game brings together arguably the two best transfers in the country. Memphis’s Elliot Williams played at Duke last season. Two years ago, Wes Johnson made the move from Iowa State to Syracuse. Coincidentally, Duke plays Iowa State immediately following this game.
Flashback: Jonny Flynn led the Orange with 24 points and six assists as Syracuse went into the FedEx Forum and took a 72-65 road win from the Tigers last December. Syracuse leads the series 2-1. Wednesday’s game marks the first time the two have met at the Carrier Dome.
Foreshadowing: The Tigers have sent 29 to the NBA including current players Rodney Carney, Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Tyreke Evans, and Derrick Rose. Thirty-four Orange have earned spots in the league. Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn, Donte Green, Jason Hart, Etan Thomas, and Hakim Warrick currently hold spots on NBA rosters.
Mood: With their Big East schedule ready to get into full swing, the Orange could easily overlook this game. Classes are not in session, and it is the middle of the week. On the other hand, the Orange will seek to right their ship after their first lost on Saturday to Pittsburgh, 82-72. If Syracuse wants to prove themselves as an elite team, this is an important game to win.
A victory for Memphis could go a long way in securing an at-large bid, if needed, in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis’s three losses have been by a combined 10 points. The Tigers lost to No. 1 Kansas, 57-55. UMass toppled the Tigers at the buzzer, 73-72. The Tigers fell to No. 14 Tennessee, 66-59.
Conflict: Syracuse is second in the nation with 12.6 steals per game. Memphis ranks ninth in the category with 10.6 steals per game. The similarities continue from there. The Orange outscore opponents by an average margin of 22 points. The Tigers hold a 20.1 advantage in this category. Syracuse hits .393 of their attempts from behind the arc. Memphis finishes .358 from long range. Syracuse limits their opponents to .298 success on three balls. Memphis opponents hit just .292 behind the arc.
Meanwhile, Syracuse averages 21.1 assists per game to 14.5 for Memphis. At the same time, Syracuse turns over the ball 15.9 times to 12.2 for Memphis. Syracuse has a rebound margin of +3.2. Memphis holds a margin of 1.0.
All these could be null and void depending upon how Memphis responds to the Syracuse zone.
Williams leads four Tigers in double figures with 19.7. The sophomore add four rebounds and assists per game. What makes Williams difficult to defend is that he has 23 trifectas out 66 attempts. At the same, the 6′5″ guard can go off the dribble and get to the rim (think of Dwyane Wade driving the lane). Can Williams penetrate the Syracuse zone? He will need to be patient and wait to catch the ball in reversal.
Wesley Witherspoon scores 10 point per game off the bench. The 6′9″ forward will need to be alert and find seams in the zone as Williams looks to drive.
Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie combine for 21 points in Pastner four-guard lineup. Mack leads the Tigers with 28 three-pointers. The senior hit four from long-range in a losing effort to Tennessee.
Will Coleman grabs six boards off the bench to lead the way for Memphis.
Johnson leads four Orange in double figures with 17 points per game. The junior adds 8.8 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks. Johnson plays his best when the Orange need him. Johnson scored 17 points in a win over Cal, 25 in a victory over UNC, and 17 against Florida. Johnson had 13 points and 12 rebounds as the Orange erased a six-point second-half deficit against Seton Hall.
Arinze Onuaku adds 10 points and 3.7 boards per game.
Brandon Triche scores 10 a game with 2.9 assists. The freshman guard had just one turnover in 26 minutes of play against Pittsburgh.
Kris Joseph adds ten points and 5.6 rebounds off the bench.
Senior, Andy Rautins leads the Orange with 32 three pointers. He also leads the team with 2.4 steals per game.
Rautins along with Scoop Jardine top the Orange with an assist to turnover ratio of 2.2/1.
Rick Jackson scores 9.9 per game with 7.3 rebounds.
Resolution: Coleman and Witherspoon match up well with Onuaku and Jackson. For the first time this year, the Syracuse front court will not have a size advantage over their opponents. The question for Josh Pastner will be whether he goes with his four-guard lineup or decides to match up inside with the Orange.
The Tigers are catching the Orange at the wrong time. Saturday’s loss served as the wake up call this Syracuse team needed. Memphis has the ability to make this a game in the second half. Syracuse’s rebounding advantage will prove the difference in the end.