Item: We’ve always looked forward to the one crossover month of the year (once in a while you can throw in December) when both Cuse football and hoops are (usually) playing meaningful games for different reasons, in this instance football in its challenging stretch run to become bowl eligible, and basketball to fine tune its rotation with three new (fulltime) starters against an equally testing early schedule.
It’s an interesting contrast to the two-sport doubleheader inside the Dome this weekend, the football team (3-5, 1-3) fighting for its post-season life against winless conference opponent North Carolina State (4-4, 0-4), and the basketball team opening up play against a not-so-ordinary first exhibition game opponent, a Carleton University team that it’s most familiar with from the August 2013 Canadian exhibition tour, SU having to come from 15 points down in the second half in Ottawa to win by four.
While the Syracuse football defense continued its strong season-long aggressive style in forcing four turnovers in last week’s loss to Clemson, the offensively-challenged side of the ball, 13th in the 14 team ACC in scoring at 20 points a game, will first face a N.C. State defense Saturday (3:00 p.m. ET / ACCRSN) that’s giving up a bunch of points in conference play, providing a benchmark goal for AJ Long and company to shoot for four scores.
Can Long, averaging 58% passing for 480 yards and two scores in his three games played, direct a minimum of four SU scoring drives against a NCSU team that’s 13th in scoring defense giving up 29 points a game overall which included a weak non-league schedule, and an average of 38 points in each of its four ACC defeats?
SU hasn’t exhibited that kind of red zone scoring offense all season, and despite having the limited appearances under his belt and struggling for the first time against a top-line Clemson defense, there’s no doubting Long among his teammates including one of the defensive leaders.
“We got full faith in our offense,” linebacker Cam Lynch told the media after the Clemson defeat, while noting the Tigers “D” is as tough as any nationally to score points against. “We got 100 percent faith in our offense what AJ’s going to do and our offensive line. (So now) go back to the drawing board and get ready for N.C. State, win these next couple of games so we go to a bowl.”
On the basketball side of the ledger, it’s quite an itinerary for Jim Boeheim this week, and that’s a prelude to a crowded November book signing tour for his newly released “Bleeding Orange” (which The Juice senior columnist Matt Dagostino wrote a must-read review of last week).
Wednesday was the annual ACC media day event at Charlotte, in which Cuse players Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney also represented the school, and all three attendees deflected the inevitable NCAA investigation questions to talk basketball. Thursday and Friday marked the long-awaited hearings with the infractions committee in Chicago in which Boeheim was one of the invitees from the university summoned to attend (along with Scott Shafer, diverting portions of two days of his N.C. State game week preparations), and Sunday afternoon is the exhibition game rematch against Carleton (1:00 p.m. ET / TWCS).
The Ravens are the four-time defending Canadian national champion and despite losing three starters are still that country’s top collegiate program. That level of opening competition will provide an interesting backdrop to the dress rehearsals for talented newcomers Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph in the starting lineup, along with the anticipation of an improved Christmas having a robust final season, and Cooney’s outside shooting marksmanship among the other early storylines.
At the ACC event Wednesday, Cooney said the freshmen have been impressive early offensively, and acknowledges the Orange would like to score more than last season’s 68 points per game average, but stressed the key to improvement (and playing time, he included) will come from their defensive effort enforcing the zone.
“Our defense has been pretty good (in practices and scrimmages)…and it’s getting better,” Cooney said with a quick smile then serious look suggesting that end of the floor has been under heavy scrutiny from the boss.
“We have some new members on this team that are understanding it (the 2-3), and learning it, getting better every day with it. It’s something that we work on every day, and as long as we keep doing that it’s going to be good, because when our 2-3 is good it wins us a lot of games.”
For this weekend at least, all eyes are on the Orange football offense and SU basketball defense to key their respective, season-long odysseys towards post-season play.