Plenty of challenges left in Syracuse basketball’s non-conference slate

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Dec 8, 2018; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes (33) shoots over Jessie Govan (15) during the second half of the Orange's 72-71 win over Georgetown at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

It certainly seems like the Syracuse basketball team has righted their ship. After a disappointing trip to New York City where the only souvenirs the Orange brought home were a pair of losses, the team has straightened things out with five straight wins.

Those victories were a mixed bag, but wins all the same. The team scored a couple laughers over Colgate and Northeastern, slept through a win over Cornell, got a tough road win over a ranked Ohio State team, and pulled out a dramatic win in a “throw out the records” game against historic rival Georgetown.

All in all, those are five straight wins putting SU back into the national polls before they coast through the rest of the non-conference schedule before ACC play, right?

Uh, no.

Saturday starts four very concerning days for the Orange, as they welcome Old Dominion to the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon and Buffalo follows on Tuesday night.

Old Dominion stands at 7-3 on the season and their best win is a home victory over VCU. The Monarchs have lost to the two closest things on their schedule to name-brand opponents, St. Joseph’s and Oregon State, and are yet to win on the road.

Still seems like just another late December game when the Orange invite a friend over to play and send them on their way with a pat on the head and an “L”.

» Related: After a rough start to the season, Syracuse basketball is fine

But, ODU went 25-7 last season and was third in the preseason poll for Conference USA. Their two starting guards, Ahmad Caver and B.J. Stith, were named preseason all-conference players. The Monarchs are currently 87th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, so they fit that profile of a team that should be looked upon as a solid, “top-100” win at the end of the season.

Caver and Stith have been as advertised this season. The 6’2” Caver is averaging 18.5 points, 5.1 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, leading Old Dominion in each category. Stith is right behind Caver with 18.0 points per game and also leads the team with 8.8 rebounds per game at 6’5”. The two have combined for 45 three-pointers in ten games and teammates Xavier Green and Marquis Godwin have each hit over ten threes on the season, as well.

By the way, the Monarchs are 27th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.

In other words, Saturday’s matinee could be another Syracuse rock fight that is a one- or two-possession game all the way through with those star guards and three-point shooters making Jim Boeheim’s facial expressions look like how your stomach feels watching it.

Tuesday night, things get even tougher as #14 Buffalo comes calling. Yes, that’s #14 in the country and, yes, I intentionally left that part out when first mentioning them.

The Bulls are 9-0 with a win over then-#13 West Virginia and have a tune-up Saturday afternoon when they host Southern Illinois. If you don’t think Buffalo wants another shot at knocking off the Orange after leading them at the Dome with three minutes to play last season, you may have forgotten the ringing in your ears from the raucous faithful of another in-state opponent after Saint Bonaventure did it last season.

Buffalo rates 43rd in the nation in tempo while standing 15th in turnover rate, leading to their gaudy mark of being 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Bulls like to run and they do it while taking care of the ball.

Four different players average double digits for Buffalo and three others are within a made basket on the season of averaging seven points per game. 6’3” guard C.J. Massinburg paces the group with 17.5 points per game and 24 threes on the season, shooting them at a 46.2 percent clip. Massinburg hit nine of those triples against West Virginia when he poured in 43 points in the Bulls’ overtime win.

Jeremy Harris has four straight games of at least 15 points, Nick Perkins has topped 18 points four times already this season, and Jayvon Graves has five double-digit efforts, including five threes when he dropped 19 points on Saint Bonaventure in the Bulls’ last game. The Bulls are balanced and dangerous, especially to a team that still struggles for stretches on offense.

These next two games are not holiday treats for the Orange to gorge upon. They are booby-trapped presents, waiting to spring out on the unsuspecting.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 531 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.