November 20, 2014

Jim Boeheim appears to have yet another elite defensive squad at Syracuse.

The 23rd-ranked Orange will be tested by high-scoring California as the teams meet for the third time in as many seasons Thursday night in a 2K Classic semifinal at Madison Square Garden.

Syracuse held Kennesaw State and Hampton to a combined 35.2 percent shooting and forced a total of 40 turnovers in 89-42 and 65-47 victories. Those opponents were a combined 9 of 40 from 3-point range against the Orange, who limited teams to 59.2 points per game last season to rank eighth nationally.

Boeheim's defense had looked shaky in a 76-68 exhibition win over Carleton on Nov. 2, letting the Ravens shoot 53.6 percent in the first half.

"We still have a lot of work to do, but we are not making the real bad plays," Boeheim said after Sunday's win - No. 950 for his career. "... Our defense is fine. It will get better."

The Orange are looking to improve to 67-1 in regular-season non-conference games since 2009-10 - a span in which all other Division I teams have at least six such losses.

One of those wins came against California (2-0). Syracuse topped the Golden Bears 92-81 in a Maui Invitational semifinal in 2013, and also 66-60 in the third round of the NCAA tournament eight months earlier.

Cal shot 51.9 percent in Maui while Syracuse was even better at 53.4 percent. The since-departed C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis combined for 42 points for the Orange.

The Bears, who were ninth in the Pac-12 in 2013-14 with 72.4 points per game, look much more potent in their first season under Cuonzo Martin. They've shot 55.8 percent in two 34-point victories, scoring 90-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time since 2002.

Tyrone Wallace, who was 2 for 8 for nine points with six turnovers in last season's matchup, scored 18 and added nine rebounds and seven assists in Sunday's 93-59 win over Kennesaw State.

Martin wasn't pleased with 15 turnovers, however. California committed eight in its opener against Alcorn State.

"I thought it was too much one-on-one play, not making the extra pass," Martin said. "I don't think the ball flowed like it should flow when you got guys open. But other than that, guys settled down and we played the way we're capable of playing."

Syracuse has looked inconsistent on offense, shooting 48.0 percent against Kennesaw State before dipping to 41.5 percent versus Hampton. Three-point shooting was a problem in both games with the Orange going 9 for 33 from beyond the arc.

Syracuse shot a mediocre 33.1 percent from deep last season.

"Last year we weren't a great offensive team but we were a bit more consistent," Boeheim said. "We have to work through that; it's going to take some time. It's not something that is going to happen overnight."

Rakeem Christmas scored 15 with a career-high 16 rebounds against Hampton, becoming the first Orange player with at least 15 rebounds since Rick Jackson on Jan. 22, 2011. Christmas scored a career-high 21 versus Kennesaw State and is averaging 18.0 points - 12.2 more than he had in 2013-14 despite playing only 4.9 more minutes per game this season.

The winner will meet No. 10 Texas or Iowa in Friday night's championship.

You May Like