After cruising through its non-conference schedule unbeaten for the third straight season and becoming the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, the Syracuse University men's basketball program will begin another long, strenuous Big East Conference campaign Wednesday as the Orange host Seton Hall University at the Carrier Dome (7 p.m. on SNY and ESPN3). The Orange (13-0) look to extended their conference-opening win streak to four games, while the Pirates (11-1) hope that this year's trip to Syracuse has a similar outcome to last year's, which featured a 61-56 victory over the No. 10-ranked Orange.
"Last year, we were able to make some shots, they missed shots and that's really all it came down to," said second-year Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, who's squad ran out to a 26-16 advantage at the Carrier Dome and held on for the upset victory.
"The tough thing about this conference is when you're catching a team," said Willard. "Right now, we're catching Syracuse at a really bad time because they're playing excellent basketball, they're healthy, they're fresh."
Syracuse is coming off to back-to-back dominating victories over Bucknell University, Dec. 20, and Tulane University, Dec. 22, which each fell to the Orange, 80-61.
Currently, senior forward Kris Joseph leads SU in points (14.5) and rebounds (5.4) per game, while sophomore guard Dion Waiters has been stellar coming off the bench netting 12.3 ppg. Senior point guard Scoop Jardine is averaging 9.2 ppg and about four assists, while junior guard Brandon Triche nets around 9.8 ppg and dishes out more than three assists per game.
So far, the Orange are nationally known for their roster depth which features 10 players averaging double-digit playing minutes and a bench that leads the nation in scoring.
"We can't compare depth wise," said Willard. "What we have to try to do is get our guys breaks and keep them as fresh as possible on the court. We have to make sure we play at our tempo and take advantage of our opportunities."
Meanwhile, the Pirates are off to their best start since the 1992-93 season that featured Seton Hall busting out to a 14-1 overall record and eventually winning the Big East Championship.
Senior forward Herb Pope paces the Pirates and is second in the conference in scoring (20.3 ppg) and rebounding (11.4), while senior point guard Jordan Theodore is coming off a collegiate-best performance of 26 points in a 87-61 victory over Longwood University, Dec. 23. Theodore currently leads the league in assists (7.3 per game).
"They're playing great," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim last Thursday. "They came in here and beat us last year. They have been a very good team. It will be a great challenge."
"Herb Pope is having a great year," said Boeheim. "He is one of the leading big guys in the country right now. They have good senior leadership with him and Theodore. They have a good team. A really good team."
Syracuse vs. Seton Hall will be one of four Big East games Wednesday night, as No. 12 Georgetown Hoyas visit No. 4 Louisville Cardinals (7 p.m. on ESPN2), West Virginia Mountaineers host the Villanova Wildcats (7 p.m. on ESPN3) and No. 9 Connecticut Huskies travel to the South Florida Bulls (9 p.m. on ESPN3). On Tuesday night, the Big East schedule tipoff with two games that featured the St. John's Red Storm routing the visiting Providence Friars, 91-67, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish downing No. 22 Pittsburgh Panthers, 72-59.
Syracuse enters Wednesday's contest as 15 1/2-point favorites.
SB Nation New York will be blogging live from press row at the Carrier Dome Wednesday night, as the Syracuse Orange take on Big East rival the Seton Hall Pirates. Be sure to check back for in-game updates and postgame material. Visit SB Nation's Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician for more on Syracuse and South Orange Juice for everything Seton Hall. Follow us along on Twitter at SBNationNY or JaredSmithCNY.