Fordham faces stiffest test of young season, and maybe last several years, when C.J. Fair and Syracuse welcome Rams into Carrier Dome. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
By the time Fordham takes the court at the Carrier Dome tomorrow night, it will have been four nights since the Rams opened their 111th season with an emphatic 87-67 victory over Saint Francis University on a night in which freshman sensation Jon Severe announced his presence with a school record 28-point debut.
However, the Rams' immediate encore will not come easy, as they make the five-hour journey for their longest trip of the nonconference season to face a Syracuse team who will be a little more agitated than usual after overcoming a mild scare from Cornell in the first half of their season opener Friday night before pulling away to an 82-60 rout of the Big Red. Led by senior wing C.J. Fair, who could ultimately be the best player in the nation by the time the season is over, the Orange also possesses a trio of big men in Baye Moussa Keita, DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant to help anchor the middle of their world-famous 2-3 zone defense.
Just as we did for the Saint Francis opener with John Templon of Big Apple Buckets, we once again bring in a guest contributor to help us get to know Syracuse a little better, as Jeremy Ryan of the outstanding website Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician (a Syracuse football reference for those of you unfamiliar) was gracious enough to give us some additional insight on New York's College Team:
Jaden Daly: How strong was Tyler Ennis' (Syracuse's freshman point guard) first impression?
Jeremy Ryan: Ennis was actually fairly low-key in his first official game. That's not to say he didn't play well, far from it, but Syracuse fans have seen some spectacular freshman debuts in the last decade - Carmelo Anthony and Jonny Flynn come to mind - so they aren't easily impressed. Ennis had a subpar shooting night vs. Cornell, for sure. He was 0-6 from the field and 1-2 from the line, and never really got into any sort of a shooting groove. However, he found othr ways to contribute, pitching in with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block in 28 minutes, so it isn't like he had a bad game. I would say his first impression was mild to the naked eye, but if you look beyond scoring he did some very nice things.
JD: What was the biggest issue in the Cornell game, and how well did Syracuse adjust?
JR: SU's first half defense was shaky, and that's being kind. The Big Red guards were lighting up SU's zone and had 10 threes overall, most of them before halftime. SU made some adjustments during the break and really extended the 2-3 in the second half, clamping down on the perimeter and forcing Cornell's guards inside, where they had to deal with the Orange's long and athletic back line.
JD: How have the increased foul calls affected, or will affect, the frontcourt?
JR: I haven't seen it. I don't think any of Syracuse's opponents have yet challenged them athletically to the point where they have to resort to hand checking to get stops. Also, you have to remember that SU employs the 2-3 zone 100% of the time, so there is very little one-on-one defense outside of an opponent's first couple of dribbles. The zone is designed to provide maximum help on drives, so I think Syracuse players are already conditioned to funnel their men toward that help and not expect to have to resort to physical play to slow their men down.
JD: Who has the most "breakout season" potential after one game?
JR: Trevor Cooney, without a doubt. The maligned redshirt sophomore scored a career-high 27 points on 6-8 from three, and his defense helped lock down Cornell's shooters in the second half. Cooney's hot streak early in the second coincided with SU's run to take the lead. If he can hit a few threes a game, it will open up a lot of space for his frontcourt teammates to operate in the paint.
JD: Besides C.J. Fair, who stands to take the most advantage of playing against Fordham's smaller lineup?
JR: I'd say sophomore forward Jerami Grant. He missed the Cornell game because of a minor eligibility issue, so he'll be hungry to make up for lost time. He's also the most athletic player on a very athletic team. At 6'8" and 220 pounds, if he plays significant minutes at power forward, he will likely have a huge size and quickness advantage over whomever Fordham puts on him. Syracuse starts 6'9", 6'8" and 6'8" across its front line, and brings Grant off the bench as the sixth man. Good luck, Rams.