The current basketball season will be Syracuse's last in the Big East before moving to the ACC in Summer 2013, while Arkansas just completed its 21st season as a part of the SEC and is still viewed by many as an outsider. What aspects of the move are Orange fans most excited by? Which schools stand to be new rivals? Which old rivalries will diehards be reluctant to let go?
I think the aspect of ACC basketball that excites Syracuse fans the most is the chance to have an actual rivalry with Duke and North Carolina. Obviously, they're considered elite basketball programs and we'd like to be seen that way as well. It's gonna take a lot more national titles to get there but in the meantime we'd love the chance to pack the Carrier Dome and beat them, not to mention play in Cameron in front of the Crazies. Lots of cool opportunities like that ahead that will probably feel new and exciting for a while.
I think the most obvious new rival for us is actually an old one, Boston College. They were doing pretty well right before they left and we remember some pretty good games with them. It'll be nice to get that rivalry going again. We just found out Louisville is joining us, which is great as well since we already dislike them (naturally). As for ACC teams that we have no natural rivalry with, I'm excited about playing Duke, UNC and Miami, who we love beating the crap out of any chance we get because they're Miami.
As for old Big East rivalries we're going to miss, there's so many to name. Obviously, Georgetown, but hopefully we'll still play them every year. Boeheim has said we're going to keep the St. John's rivalry going as well. But I'll definitely miss playing Villanova, UConn, Providence, Seton Hall and even Marquette, who became a really solid rival in recent years. Rutgers...screw'm.
Much is always made of the "Syracuse Zone" that Jim Boeheim's teams always play. What makes the Syracuse Zone different from a 2-3 Zone that other teams might run? Is it a difference in philosophy? Personnel? Or simply execution? What sets it apart?
The biggest difference is just that our guys spend every waking moment playing it, so it's not like they're just dabbling. They're working harder on zone defense than any other team in the country, so they better know it well. I don't think it's so much a philosophical difference as a personnel & execution one. You've always got quick guards up top looking for a steal or to misdirect the play. They're backed up by long-armed wings who can easily jump out to guard a three-ball but just as quickly get back into the paint. And then there's a dominant big man in the middle blocking shots and changing the complexion of plays.
What makes this year's zone so interesting is how it changes based on who is in. We could have DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas both down low to really bring the size. Or we could have C.J. Fair or James Southerland moving from the bottom of the zone up to the top of the zone, depending on who is in. It's very flexible and you've got a lot of guys who can play a lot of different spots.
Mike Anderson has branded his Razorbacks' style of play as "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball", and the Hogs will look to get up and down the court as much as possible against Syracuse. At what tempo do the Orange prefer to play? Will they cotton to the breakneck style of play coveted by Arkansas?
Perhaps not quite as fast as Arkansas but we do like to run. Last year, we did all of our damage in transition and we struggled when opponents slowed us down. This year's team isn't quite as quick as last year's was with Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. However, we've still got some talent, especially up top. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams are holding their own up top and Carter-Williams is leading the nation in assists per game. Both of them can make plays happen in transition and they've got lots of exciting targets to dish to. Fair and Southerland are both playing well on the wings while Christmas, Coleman and Baye Keita are dominating down low so far. It's one of those lineups where you might shut down one or two guys but there are three more ready to step up. We beat you down with sheer numbers.
Friday's game will be Syracuse's first trip to Fayetteville and Bud Walton Arena, long regarded as one of the loudest and most intimidating places in the country to play when the Razorbacks are enjoying success. With a nationally recognized program such as Syracuse visiting on Friday, it should certainly be filled to capacity and rocking. What are some of the venues in the Big East that prepare Syracuse for the hostile environment they will most likely see against Arkansas?
I don't care what your record is and what our record is, any time Syracuse is going into a situation like this, it's gut-check time. The good news for Syracuse is that, despite our reputation for not traveling, we are very battle-tested when it comes to hostile crowds. Last year we played in front of some extremely loud crowds that wanted our blood at NC State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, UConn and Pitt. And we even faced three "White-Outs" and beat them all, so we're probably not going to be too worked up about seeing that. All of that said, you never know what you're going to get from a team in this kind of environment and I expect the Razorbacks to feed off the crowd energy.
Who are the playmakers for the Orange that Arkansas fans will should keep an eye on during the game Friday? Finally, how do you see the game playing out? Care to toss out a score prediction?
Michael Carter-Williams is on a record-breaking pace right now when it comes to assists and he's emerged as "the next Dion Waiters," at least in terms of the guy who is going to come out of nowhere and be a lottery pick very soon. Meanwhile, James Southerland is already looking he's going to contend for Syracuse's third Big East Sixth Man of the Year Award in four seasons. Boeheim doesn't really care about starters and prefers to mix things up early and often, so it's a bit of a misnomer. And down low, Rakeem Christmas is a beast who has stepped right into Fab Melo's shoes and taken over as a dominant presence in the paint.
My guess is that we'll see a very fast-paced game since both teams want to move the ball and get into transition. My hope is that the zone stymies things and Syracuse overpowers Arkansas with talent. A hot three-point hand from Arkansas could be our undoing, especially since we're not shooting well from outside this season. Still, I see Syracuse holding on in this one by the score of 78-71 and gaining some modicum of vengeance for that 1995 NCAA Tournament loss (not really...).