After a pair of solid performances to open the season, Syracuse has struggled to stay unbeaten in its last two games. That may happen again Friday night when it takes on a Michigan team that has easily handled its first three opponents.
The ninth-ranked Orange face the Wolverines for the first time in 12 years when they meet in the semifinals of the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, N.J.
Syracuse (4-0) played well in defeating Northern Iowa and Canisius to start the season, but it had to work a lot harder than expected to come away with its last two victories.
The Orange trailed Detroit by three at halftime before posting a 66-55 win Nov. 16 and needed three free throws in the final 1:29 to defeat William & Mary 63-60 on Sunday.
Syracuse, which Jim Boeheim said is the most overrated team he's ever had in 35 years as coach, shot 36.4 percent against Detroit and 36.7 on Sunday. The Orange have made 23.1 percent of their 3-point attempts (12 of 52) and shot 58.1 percent from the free-throw line in those games.
"We've got to make some shots. We missed some easy ones around the basket, but we're going to have to make some shots pretty soon," Boeheim said Sunday. "The more we have games like this, the more teams are going to play zone against us.
"We're going to have to find a way to put the ball in the basket. It puts too much pressure on your defense."
Junior forward Kris Joseph led Syracuse with 18 points, and senior forward Rick Jackson had 11 points and 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double. Junior guard Scoop Jardine added 11 points while tying career highs with nine assists and five steals.
"We haven't been playing the way we want to be playing," said Joseph, shooting 31.4 percent. "We haven't been tested like this. We haven't been down with 3 minutes to go. I think we showed a lot of poise ... and didn't panic. That says a lot."
Syracuse could be tested by Michigan, which has won its first three games by an average of 24.0 points. Those victories came against lesser opponents South Carolina-Upstate, Bowling Green and Gardner-Webb, so the Wolverines are anxious to see how they compete this weekend.
"It's going to be really important how we respond - win or lose," sophomore point guard Darius Morris said. "It's going to be fun to get a challenge. Not to say that these teams weren't challenges, but Syracuse is ranked and is an extremely good program."
Morris had a career-high 21 points and 10 assists in an 80-58 win over Gardner-Webb on Sunday. He leads Michigan with 14.7 points and 8.3 assists per game.
Syracuse is 7-5 against Michigan, winning 58-46 in the most recent matchup at the 1998 Maui Classic.
The winner of this contest will meet UTEP or Georgia Tech in the championship game Saturday night.