Three days after allowing the DePaul Blue Demons to snap their 24-game Big East losing streak, the Marquette Golden Eagles look to slay some conference demons of their own when they travel to Syracuse on Saturday to play the fifth-ranked Orange.
Since joining the Big East in 2005, MU (11-7, 2-4) is 0-3 against Jim Boeheim’s club with their only trip to the Carrier Dome as a Big East affiliate resulting in a 87-72 loss on March 8, 2008.
The No. 5 ranking is the highest the Orange (18-1, 5-1) have held when facing the Golden Eagles and MU head coach Buzz Williams knows that his squad will have their hands full. “They’re extremely talented and have caused problems for everyone they’ve faced, except Pittsburgh,” said Williams, referencing the Orange’s lone loss this season, an 82-72 home defeat to the Panthers on Jan. 2, according to jsonline.com. “I beleive that Syracuse is for sure a No. 1 seed, and possibly even the top No. 1 seed [in the NCAA Tournament].”
Despite losing their top three scorers from last year’s squad (Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris) and being unranked in the preseason, the 2009-10 Orange are a well-balanced club capable of dominating a game from both inside the paint and on the perimeter.
Leading the charge for the ‘Cuse is 6’7″, 205-pound junior forward Wesley Johnson.
A Corsicana, TX native, Johnson sat out the 2008-09 season after transferring from Iowa St. and has proven to be worth the wait. Leading the Orange in scoring (17.1 points, good for eighth in the Big East) and rebounding (8.7, fifth best in the conference), Johnson, in addition to being a dominant post presence, has showcased a feathery touch from three-point range as he enters Saturday’s matchup shooting .450 (27-60) from downtown.
Boasting a .553 field goal percentage, Johnson has failed to score in double figures on only occasion this season and has eight double doubles, highlighted by a 20-point, 19-rebound gem at Seton Hall on Dec. 29, to his name.
While Johnson has been able to compliment his interior game via the jumpshot, senior Andy Rautins is Syracuse’s primary weapon from beyond the arc.
The 6’4″, 195-pound guard has seen his scoring average increase in each of his four years on campus and is averaging 10.9 ppg, second on the team. In addition to averaging a team-leading 5.1 assists per contest, Rautins is the overwhelming leader in threes attempted (115) and made (48). Possessing a range that seeemingly has no limits, Rautins has made at least three treys in eight of Syracuse’s 19 games–punctuacted by a 7-10 performance against Robert Morris on Nov. 11.
With six players averaging at least nine points per contest–Brandon Triche (10.4 ppg), Arinze Onuaku (10.1 ppg), Kris Joseph (9.7 ppg) and Rick Jackson (9.4 ppg) join the aforementioned Johnson and Rautins–the Orange, currently riding a five-game winning streak, are second in the Big East in scoring (84.5 ppg), first in scoring margin (+19.6), first in field goal percentage (.532) and third in three-point percentage (.395).
The hallmark of any Syracuse team under the Hall of Famer Boeheim, now in his 34th season at the helm, however, has been defense; most notably an aggressvie 2-3 zone.
Leading the nation and conference in three-point accuracy (.431) and boasting the league’s top two three-point shooters (Darius Johnson-Odom and Maurice Acker), MU has the weapons to beat the Syracuse zone. However, Williams knows that the Golden Eagles’ play on in the interior, ultimately, will determine how successful their offense will perform against Boeheim’s legendary defense.
“Regardless of the arrangement of a defense, I believe it’s imperative to get paint touches so that you’ve forced the defense to rotate,” said Williams, as reported by jsonline.com. “Once you’ve done that, then I believe you have a better look at a good shot.”
Saturday will mark the fourth time this season that the Golden Eagles face a top-10 opponent (West Virginina on Dec. 29 and Villanova on Jan.2 and Jan. 9). The Golden Eagles are 0-3 in said games and have lost by a total of five points. All told, MU’s four Big East setbacks have been by a combined six points with two games (at West Virginia and Wednesday night at DePaul) ending on the wrong end of a buzzer beater.
Tipoff is scheduled for 1:00pm CST and can be seen on ESPNU.