Battling to Stay Perfect

Last season, Syracuse barely missed the NCAA tournament while Ohio State advanced all the way to the final game.

But both unbeaten teams have plenty to prove Wednesday night when they face off in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Syracuse –1.5  point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 51% of bets for this game have been placed on Ohio State +1.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The winner will face either No. 16 Texas A&M or Washington on Friday in the championship of the event, which No. 21 Syracuse won during the 1988-89 and 2001-02 seasons, beating Big Ten teams in the semifinals each time.

The Orange went 24-11 last season and did not receive an at-large berth for the NCAA tournament, as its weak non-conference schedule was cited. This season, they play 14 of their first 15 games in the state of New York.

Syracuse (3-0) will face a young Buckeyes squad that lost four starters and 73 percent of its scoring from last season's Final Four team. But even after losing three freshmen to the NBA draft in Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, Ohio State (2-0) is the third team receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll, and would likely vault into the rankings with a good showing this weekend.

That's mostly because of three players who each averaged at least 17 points in the Buckeyes' first two games. Lone returning starter Jamar Butler has hit half of his 18 3-point attempts, sophomore David Lighty is shooting 62.5 percent and 7-foot freshman Kosta Koufos has a team-high 37 points in just 49 minutes through two games.

Koufos, a McDonald's All-American as a high school senior in Canton, Ohio, had 19 points in the Buckeyes' last game, a 68-54 win over Columbia last Tuesday. He already has his coach talking about him in the same sentence as Oden, the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft.

"Kosta is more of a face-up player that can handle, shoot and pass the ball well so he can do a little more offensively for us than Greg," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "I think time will tell if he is a one-year-and-done player."

Syracuse is hoping to return to the NCAAs behind a pair of blue-chip freshmen in Donte' Greene and Jonny Flynn.

Greene is a 6-foot-11 forward from Baltimore, the same city that produced Carmelo Anthony, who led the Orange to an NCAA title his freshman season in 2002-03 before entering the NBA draft.

Greene had 25 points and nine rebounds in an 80-63 win over Fordham Saturday, including 16 points in the first half.

"It was just part of what I feel I can do," Greene said. "When my team was down, I stepped up and got the team rolling."

After that game, he also called Flynn the nation's best point guard. The 6-foot Flynn is already dishing out 7.7 assists per game, and he scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point range in the season opener against Siena on Nov. 12. His 3 broke a 68-68 tie with Saint Joseph's with 5.3 seconds to play last Tuesday, sending the Orange to Madison Square Garden with a 72-69 win.

"Their threat is that they can score," Matta said. "Flynn seems to have great command of the team and what they are running already while Greene has found different ways to score."

All five starters are averaging double figures for Syracuse, including junior guard Eric Devendorf (16.0 ppg), junior Arinze Onuaku (13.7) and sophomore Paul Harris (12.7).

The Orange beat Ohio State 77-66 in their last meeting in November 2000, but the Buckeyes hold a 3-2 edge in the all-time series. Syracuse is 60-41 at MSG under longtime coach Jim Boeheim.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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