On Nov. 5, longtime rivals UConn and Syracuse will face off at Madison Square Garden in a highly anticipated showdown between two storied men’s basketball programs. With that in mind, The Daily Campus sports writers Josh Buser and Tyler Keating batted around the big question: who wins this rivalry match?
Josh Buser: At 2-4, UConn has had its fair share of struggles early in the season. One of the most noticeable downfalls has been the inability to score against a zone defense. Without Daniel Hamilton to take up space in the middle of a zone, UConn has yet to figure out an efficient offensive strategy. As we all know, Syracuse has run their notorious 2-3 zone for years. The Huskies have had trouble against the weaker zone defenses of Wagner and Northeastern, so to expect UConn to turn it around against the No. 22 Orange is ambitious at best, perhaps even unrealistic.
Meanwhile, Syracuse began the season on a four-game winning streak before recently losing to South Carolina. The Orange only scored 50 points in the loss, the first time this year that they were held under 70. The loss could be chalked up to a bad shooting night, as Syracuse went just 14-44 (31.8 percent) from the floor, well below their 49.3 percent season average.
Tyler Keating: It’s going to take a tremendous effort for this depleted UConn team to bring down the Orange, no doubt about it. Head coach Jim Boeheim lost some valuable contributors from last year’s squad, which made an unlikely run to the Final Four, but he brought back some crucial ones too in forwards Tyler Lydon and Tyler Robinson, as well as adding transfer Andrew White III. They’re certainly good. But they’re not appreciably better than Oregon, who UConn fought to the wire with down in Maui.
If the Huskies get the same Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis they got in Maui, the ones that sliced into the defense at opportune times while also knocking down perimeter shots, it’s going to be a competitive game, and those types of game seem to swing UConn’s way when they’re played at Madison Square Garden. I’m a believer in home court advantage, when it’s noticeable. There are going to be plenty of Orange fans Tuesday, but there should a better Husky fan presence.
JB: The last time Kevin Ollie coached in Madison Square Garden, UConn lost to Maryland, a school with much less fan support in New York than Syracuse. This year’s Huskies haven’t even played well in Gampel Pavilion, a venue with much more home court advantage than UConn’s other home arena, Madison Square Garden.
Last year against the Orange, Jalen Adams scored just two points in 16 minutes. Adams is now miles ahead of where he was at that point in his career, but it’s worth noting that Syracuse shut him down. Although UConn scored 76 points in that game, 44 of those were scored by players that won’t be playing on Monday night.
The Huskies will need a big night from Vance Jackson at the 3-point line and quality bench minutes from Christian Vital among several other things to come out victorious, and too many things need to go right to score enough points on Syracuse’s zone. Expect the Orange and their huge backcourt consisting of the 6-foot-7 White III and 6-foot-5 Frank Howard to frustrate UConn all night long and come away with the win.
TK: Adams has come a long way from where he was during the first half of last season. He’s come a long way in just the last few weeks, morphing from just another ball-handler to an explosive and reliable No. 1 scorer down in Maui. If he gets going, he can create his own offense and open up shots around the arc to help bring down that dreaded zone. He’s fully aware of his role now and I expect him to take over Monday.
And what was a porous defense at times over the first five games somewhat found its footing against Oregon. The UConn defense is not where it was a year ago, but it will get there in time, and with only one game over the 12 days between that Oregon matchup and the meeting with Syracuse, Ollie will work out some more of the kinks. UConn will be prepared, and with Terry Larrier and Alterique Gilbert officially declared out for the season, those question marks have been addressed. The team can move on. The next part of UConn’s season officially begins against Syracuse, and they know it would be huge to pick up a victory in that game.
Josh Buser is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.