Jim Boeheim, who coached that game for the Orange, returns for his 43rd year. He also returns with all 5 of his starters from last year. Syracuse went 23-14 last year, was selected as the last team to make the NCAA tournament, and ultimately lost to Duke in the Sweet 16. Their 2-3 zone defense was solid last year, especially towards the end of the season. With every starter coming back, they are expected to be solid on defense again this year.
Players to Watch
Senior Paschal Chukwu is exactly the kind the of center you want anchoring the 2-3 zone defense. He eats up the paint with his size and wingspan, making it difficult for opponents to drive to the basket. Chukwu blocked 91 shots last year, more than any Syracuse player in the last decade. He’s averaging 10 points per game and has 7 blocks so far this year.
One of the biggest flaws on Syracuse last year was the ability to score. They didn’t score more than 60 points in the NCAA tournament. Despite this, Tyus Battle was a bright spot on offense. He entered his name in the NBA draft only to decide to return to school. He is figured to be top scorer for Syracuse this year. In the team’s first two games, Battle is averaging 15.5 PPG.
One player who won’t be playing is top recruit Darius Bazley, who de-committed from Syracuse for a $1 million shoe-company internship.
Coach Dan Hurley begins his first year at UCONN after leading Rhode Island to the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years. He takes over for Kevin Ollie, who was let go in the middle of the season last year. Ollie wasn’t able to find success after winning the National Championship in 2014. The Huskies finished the last two years under .500.
Like Syracuse, UCONN found themselves playing zone a lot last year. However, Hurley doesn’t believe in the zone. It’s not in his vernacular. He had a very aggressive defense at Rhode Island last year and plans to install that same defense with the Huskies. Hurley expects UCONN to bring a lot of intensity to the floor every night.
Players to Watch
Jalen Adams returns to UCONN for his senior year. He earned second team All-AAC honors last year with 18.1 ppg. Hurley is expecting Adams to be the best player, not only on the team, but on the floor every night.
Junior Christian Vital added 14.1 ppg. He and Adams give the Huskies an experienced backcourt, which will be vital (see what I did there) for UCONN to be relevant again in the AAC.
It will be a battle of tempos. Syracuse will want to slow the game down while UCONN will want to speed it up. Despite the Orange’s struggle to score, I think they win off of their defense.
Syracuse 53, UCONN 45
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