Don't Forget Us: Syracuse Making Strong Early Case in Competitive Big East

Adam FierCorrespondent INovember 26, 2008

With back to back wins against top 25 teams Florida and Kansas, Syracuse put the rest of the country, and particularly their own conference, on notice.

The Orange completed a perfect trip to Kansas City and came out the champions of the CBE Classic after knocking off the two teams who have combined to win the last three National Championships.

Led by point guard Jonny Flynn, Syracuse finds itself at 5-0 and looking more and more like they want to be part of the discussion when it comes to the top teams in the country's top conference.

Featuring four teams ranked in the top eight, with Connecticut (2), Louisville (3), Pittsburgh (4), and Notre Dame (8), along with Marquette, Georgetown, and Villanova also ranked among the top 25, it's difficult to dispute the Big East is the nation's elite conference.

With their victories over Florida (18) and Kansas (23), the Orange are likely to earn themselves a ranking of their own, assuming they don't slip up at home Friday against Virginia.

After holding off Florida Monday night en route to an 89-83 victory, Jim Boeheim's Orange found themselves up against a wall, down 13 points in the second half against a Kansas team that had forced more Syracuse turnovers than one could count.

Despite looking hopeless for much of the first half, Flynn sparked a rally with great pressure defense that led to some fast break opportunities, which allowed Syracuse to erase the deficit and actually go up a basket following a three from guard Andy Rautins.

Down the stretch, it would be the defensive efforts of center Arinze Onuaku and forward Paul Harris, who combined to block three shots in the final minutes, which, along with some pivotal missed free throws on the part of Kansas, allowed Flynn to free himself and drain a game-tying three with just 6.4 seconds left in regulation.

In overtime, the Orange wouldn't look back, opening up a lead as large as 10 before pulling away with an 89-81 victory over the defending National Champions.

Syracuse showed an ability to combine their unquestioned talent with some unknown toughness, and also seemed to display a change in philosophy from their head coach.

Boeheim, known as well for his 2-3 zone as anything, seemed to keep his guys playing man for a majority of the second half, which allowed for the Orange to show off their aggressiveness as opposed to sitting back and waiting for Kansas to make a play.

The offense, much to the pleasure of Dick Vitale, who was doing color commentary (and we know Vitale is certainly as colorful as they come), worked their offense through Onuaku and found success in doing so.

Onuaku provides Syracuse with an inside presence that most opponents will have difficulty matching up with, as Onuaku makes up for his lack of height (he's only 6'9") with his superior strength and developed skill set around the basket.

Guard Eric Devendorf, who looked awful early on committing turnover after turnover, provided some big scoring (he finished with 20) and will be counted on to replace the 17 PPG that Donte Greene took with him to the NBA.

You can argue that the Florida and Kansas teams Syracuse defeated were mere shells of the championship squads they were in past seasons. However, both were ranked, well coached, and featured some impressive young talent.

It should also be pointed out that in defeating Kansas last night, Syracuse became the first team in 25 years to take out the Jayhawks in Kansas City, which was anything but the neutral site it was billed as during the early season tournament.

Should they stay healthy, something they failed to do last season, Syracuse can look forward to ending their two-year NCAA Tournament drought.  Boeheim has never missed the big dance in three consecutive seasons, and if his team can stay on the court and play with the toughness and tenacity they showed in Kansas City, the Orange will be dancing again come March.

The Big East was certainly put on notice, as the Dome may once again become a place Big East foes fear rather than feast in as they have during the last few seasons.

Conference games begin in roughly five weeks, and when they do, the Orange will be looking to prove they belong among the Big East's best.