By David Schuman
Saturday afternoon, the West Virginia Mountaineers (15-6, 5-3 Big East) travel up to snowy Syracuse to take on the No. 4 Orange (21-1, 8-1 Big East). The matchup has admittedly lost some of its luster since West Virginia got blown out at St. John’s 78-62, but it’s still a battle of top-five teams in the conference so it should be a good one.
On display will be arguably the nation’s top team in Coach Jim Boeheim’s squad as well as a favorite for Big East Player of the Year, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones.
Jones is a bona fide star, averaging 20.9 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game. Don’t expect him to come off the court too much either, as he also averages a robust 37.6 minutes per game. In his senior season, Jones has emerged as the leader of the surprising Mountaineers. Along with senior guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant and his 17.4 per, the two make a formidable inside-out combo.
Syracuse is going to have more difficulty than usual containing Jones without 7-footer Fab Melo in the paint. The improved sophomore has missed the last two games with unspecified academic issues and it’s not looking like the matter will be resolved in time for this one. Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone is clearly weaker without Melo so that bodes well for West Virginia.
They still, however, have to contend with the rest of Syracuse’s talent and depth. With guys like Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters, the Orange will probably be favored in every game left this season. As well they should too, because this team runs the break well and uses their length and quickness to stymie opposing offenses.
As good as West Virginia has been, they are coming off a loss where they didn’t play their best and ‘Cuse is undefeated at the Carrier Dome this year. It’s hard for me to predict anything but a win for the home team, although it could be close. I’ll take the Orange, 69-60.