The Orange sit alone undefeated at 6-0 on top of the league, but they are hardly considered the clear cut conference favorite despite their superior record. Defeating the Louisville Cardinals on the road and following it up with a 57-55 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats is certainly impressive. However, both games could have easily seen Syracuse walk away with losses.
Cincinnati and the Orange showed off their defensive strengths after both teams came off two days rest with weekend victories. In the first half, the Bearcats shot 20.7% from the field while Syracuse was shooting 37.5%, holding a 22-18 lead.
A game after his career high scoring performance, Sean Kilpatrick settled into what doesn’t make him effective as a player. Kilpatrick shot 15 three-pointers and only one shot within the arc, while only getting to the foul line three times. That’s not the type of game that makes the talented junior look his best, regardless of his 21 points. Credit the Syracuse defense for keeping Kilpatrick on the perimeter, but he’ll need to penetrate the Orange’s zone if the Bearcats are going to have success in a potential rematch during the conference tournament.
Cashmere Wright returned after missing the previous game for Cincinnati but was also kept on the perimeter. It was unclear how much of Wright’s injured knee was bothering him, as he was a game time decision to even play against Syracuse. The Bearcats second leader scorer finished with only five points after shooting 2 for 15 from the field including 1 for 8 from three-point range.
Michael Carter-Williams continues to get better and better after recording 16 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. The 6-foot-6 guard is visibly growing with confidence with his offensive production in each game. He shot 6 for 10 from the floor, making it only the fourth time this season Carter-Williams has shot 50% or higher in a game.
Meanwhile, Brandon Triche came off his great scoring performance against the Cardinals to post 13 points and three assists in the victory. Triche and Carter-Williams have stepped up recently in the absence of ineligible teammate James Southerland.
The loss says more about Cincinnati than the win does about for Syracuse. The Orange are a great team, but everybody already knew that.
However, for the Bearcats to come off two days rest and take the Orange to the final seconds suggests Cincinnati is a team many will want to avoid come March. The Bearcats are a deep team and play in-your-face defense, something that will no doubt bother tired teams with only one days rest in the marathon known as the NCAA Tournament.
Cincinnati proved that even after knocking off a ranked team, their team is capable of bothering the nation’s top playmaker and his talented scoring teammate. If they can do that against Syracuse, then there isn’t going to be many teams they won’t be able to duplicate the effort against.
Now Syracuse wasn’t at their best, there was clearly some drop off after the big win against Louisville and they were without Southerland. However, the Bearcats weren’t at their best either with Wright banged up and Kilpatrick settling for outside jumpers like his name was Jack Taylor.
In fact, all this game proved was the Big East is going to be one giant battle likely determined to come down to the final seconds.