The No. 3-ranked Syracuse Orange will try, again, to reassure their fan base that not one player's absence will make or break their chances at a national title Saturday, as they host the West Virginia Mountaineers in a Big East Conference men's basketball game at the Carrier Dome (1 p.m. on ESPNU). Syracuse (21-1, 8-1 Big East) will reportedly be without sophomore center Fab Melo for the third consecutive game, as he tries to straighten out an "academic issue that happened in the first semester".
On Monday, without its starting center, SU earned a solid road victory at the Cincinnati Bearcats, 60-53. In his place, freshman Rakeem Christmas played his best collegiate game tallying nine rebounds, three blocks and added four points, while junior froward James Southerland provided a solid spark off the bench collecting seven rebounds and seven points.
However, in the Orange's first loss of the season Saturday, 67-58, against host Notre Dame, SU struggled inside as Irish junior forward Jack Cooley tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds. The Orange were also outrebounded 34 to 32.
The Orange are looking to widen their first-place gap in the Big East standings, which features them 1 1/2 games ahead of the Georgetown Hoyas and Marquette Golden Eagles, who are both 6-2 in the league. Meanwhile, West Virginia (15-6, 5-3) is currently in a fourth-place tie with three other programs.
SU's Christmas, Southerland, sophomore forward C.J. Fair and sophomore backup center Baye Moussa Keita will be all put to the test Saturday, as they will all try to contain the league's best big man, senior forward Kevin Jones. Currently, Jones is averaging a Big East-best 20.9 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game.
This season, the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Big East Preseason First-Teamer has compiled a league-best 14 double-doubles, a Big East Player of the Week honor and in his last six games has averaged 24.2 points and 11.5 rebounds.
Meanwhile, senior guard Darryl Bryant is the team's second leading scorer with 17.4 ppg. Bryant is averaging a solid 18.4 ppg in Big East competition.
On Wednesday, West Virginia was stunned by the St. John's Red Storm, 78-62. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Mountaineers, who's 2-4 on the road this season.
Overall, the Mountaineers have the league's third-best rebound margin (plus-6.0), while Syracuse leads the league in scoring offense (78.0 ppg), field goal percentage (47.9), steals per game (10.3) and assist/turnover ratio (plus-1.54).
SB Nation New York will be blogging live from press row at the Carrier Dome for the Syracuse vs. West Virginia's Big East showdown. Be sure to check back to this StoryStream for post-game comments from SU head coach Jim Boeheim. For more on the Orange, visit the SB Nation blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, while The Smoking Musket everything on the Mountaineers. Make sure to follow along on Twitter at SBNationNY or JaredSmithCNY.