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Despite consecutive losses, Syracuse a force

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Feb. 2, 2004
After losses to Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, getting last week off came at the right time for defending national champion Syracuse. The consecutive defeats snapped a 13-game winning streak for the Orangemen, who lost their season opener to Charlotte.

Syracuse resumed action Saturday, defeating Virginia Tech 76-64, and on Monday night the Orangemen have a showdown at Connecticut (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). I'm really looking forward to calling that game, baby!

Jim Boeheim
Coach Jim Boeheim led Syracuse to the 2003 national championship.
Coach Jim Boeheim was happy to have last week off after Pittsburgh defeated his club 66-45 -- Syracuse's lowest point total since 1968. It also gave sophomore guard Gerry McNamara time to heal his injured groin. McNamara played 39 minutes vs. Virginia Tech and scored a game-high 26 points.

Syracuse needs a healthy McNamara to help on the perimeter. He can flat-out stroke the jumper (17.1 points per game, 40.3 percent on 3-pointers). Outside shooting is an area of concern for the Orangemen right now. They need perimeter shots to fall. Defensively, the 2-3 zone will cause problems for opponents again.

Junior forward Hakim Warrick has become a big star, and he helps carry the load inside. He's averaging 8.5 rebounds per game and 19.5 points per game. Meanwhile, sophomore point guard Billy Edelin (14.4 ppg, 5.4 assists per game) complements McNamara in the backcourt.

With a 14-3 record (4-2 Big East), Syracuse is ranked No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll (and No. 21 in my V-Rankings). The Orangemen will be a major factor come NCAA Tournament time. With their athleticism, they'll be dangerous. Boeheim needs to develop some of his young players to help down the stretch.

Life in the Big East is not easy. Almost every game is a battle and you can't take anyone for granted. Boeheim learned firsthand that Pittsburgh is for real. Pitt has an impressive backcourt (senior Julius Page and sophomore Carl Krauser) plus diaper dandy Chris Taft up front.

As for Syracuse, with weapons like McNamara, Warrick and Edelin, you can't count the Orangemen out despite a couple of setbacks.

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