Cincinnati-Syracuse Preview

Syracuse is one of just four remaining undefeated Division I
teams, while Cincinnati has only one loss in 17 games.

Keeping these gaudy records intact over this next week won’t be
easy for either squad.

The fourth-ranked Orange open a stretch against three straight
ranked foes Saturday when they face the No. 25 Bearcats, who begin
a daunting three-game road swing.

Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 Big East), two wins away from matching the
school’s best start set in 1999-2000, is paired with second-ranked
Ohio State, No. 3 Kansas and sixth-ranked San Diego State as the
nation’s lone remaining unbeatens. The Orange kept their perfect
record intact with Wednesday’s 76-59 win over St. John’s.

Cincinnati (16-1, 3-1) suffered its only blemish with Sunday’s
72-61 loss at No. 7 Villanova, but bounced back with a 74-66
victory over South Florida on Wednesday.

Strong defense has been key for both the Orange and
Bearcats.

Cincinnati leads the Big East in scoring defense at 55.6 points,
while Syracuse is second at 59.8 and first in field goal defense at
37.2 percent.

Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone limited the Red Storm to 36.8 percent
shooting and helped keep the Orange in the game early when the
offense struggled, missing 8 of its first 11 shots.

“The defense was good early because we really needed it,”
Boeheim said.

Kris Joseph led Syracuse with 18 points, Brandon Triche added 15
and Scoop Jardine finished with 14. Over the last five games,
Joseph is averaging 20.6 points – 5.3 better than his team-leading
average – while Jardine is averaging 16.6 points on 58.0 percent
shooting.

“I think our better guys have been good and that’s the key for
us,” Boeheim said.

Boeheim will likely need his better players to perform at a high
level over this next week.

After facing the Bearcats for the first time since February’s
71-54 victory in Cincinnati, the Orange visit fifth-ranked
Pittsburgh on Monday and then next Saturday host Villanova, which
remained No. 7 in the latest poll.

The Bearcats are embarking on a difficult stretch of their
own.

After facing Syracuse, which has won four of the last five
meetings, Cincinnati travels to South Bend to play ninth-ranked
Notre Dame on Wednesday and then visits St. John’s next Saturday.
The Bearcats have lost 17 straight road games against Top 25 teams
since beating No. 21 Marquette on Jan. 14, 2004.

“Are we ready for it? We’ll see,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin
said. “I take them one at a time. I like the fact that we
physically match up with Syracuse. We are at that point where we
have veterans. For us, it will be a matter of execution. We have to
have great toughness and execution.”

Cronin would probably also like to see a bit more production
from his top scorer.

Dion Dixon, averaging a team-best 12.5 points, has been held to
single digits in three of his last six games.

With Dixon and the offense struggling to get in gear against
South Florida, freshman Sean Kilpatrick provided a spark with 18
points off the bench, as the Cincinnati reserves scored 39
points.

“That’s our job, for us coming off the bench,” said Kilpatrick,
who has made just one start. “When you have guys like that –
energetic guys especially – then you have an advantage over a lot
of people.”

Kilpatrick has regularly been called upon for offense, but has
been hit-or-miss. Since Dec. 23, Kilpatrick is averaging 16.0
points on 57.5 percent shooting in four games, but has combined for
just two points on 1 of 9 shooting in the other three.