Preview: Syracuse vs. Connecticut
No. 14 Syracuse and Connecticut renew acquaintances when they face off on Thursday in the opening round of the 2K Empire Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The former Big East rivals met in New York last season as well with the Orange posting a 72-63 victory.
First-year UConn coach Dan Hurley is concerned about the patented Syracuse zone used by coach Jim Boeheim. “We’ve got to try to weaken their zone by getting into their legs in the offensive end with our pressure,” Hurley told reporters. “That’s a big, big part of the game. Playing against their zone is probably 30 to 35 percent of what the game is.” The teams have played in each of the past four seasons but nothing is scheduled in the future and Boeheim allowed it will be tough to regularly play the Huskies with the ACC going to a 20-game conference slate next season. “We play the Big Ten game, and we play in a tournament,” Boeheim told reporters of the nonconference portion. “So it’s making it harder and harder to play teams that you used to play. You can only play so many of those kind of games.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT SYRACUSE (2-0): Sophomore forward Oshae Brissett is off to a strong start by averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds and junior guard Tyus Battle (15.5) and junior forward Elijah Hughes (14 per game) are also clicking. Boeheim said that center Paschal Chukwu is showing improvement and the 7-2 senior is averaging 10 points, eight rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots. “He didn’t play his first year. He sat out a year, he got hurt,” Boeheim told reporters. “Last year was his first year playing and this is his second, to me. He’s doing some things better. He’s closing on the ball better. He’s getting in better position rebound-wise. He’s getting better.”
ABOUT CONNECTICUT (2-0): The senior backcourt of Jalen Adams (18 points per game) and Tarin Smith (17.5) is mixing well and the latter is a transfer from Duquesne who played high school basketball for Hurley’s Hall of Fame father, Bob. “He’s so versatile, he can shoot the 3, he can get to the rim, he’s so athletic, and he’s unselfish,” Adams told reporters of Smith. “He plays similar to me I think, he’s crafty in the ball screens. If his jumper isn’t falling, he can get to the paint. If his scoring is not working, he can drive and kick it out.” Sophomore guard Alterique Gilbert (13.5) and sophomore power forward Josh Carlton (13 per game) also average in double digits.
1. Syracuse holds a 56-38 edge in the series.
2. UConn sophomore F Isaiah Whaley (ankle) is expected to play after a one-game absence.
3. Orange senior PG Frank Howard (ankle) recently returned to practice but isn’t expected to be available on Thursday.