SYRACUSE (20-1, 7-1 Big East) AT CINCINNATI (15-5, 5-2 Big East)
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Fifth-Third Arena
Syracuse 1 (No. 1 Big East)
Cincinnati 92 (No. 9 Big East)
Line: Syracuse -5
Syracuse Players to Watch: F Kris Joseph, 6-7 Sr. (13.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 spg); G Scoop Jardine, 6-2 Sr. (8.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.5 spg); F James Southerland, 6-8 Jr. (7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 37.3% 3s). Southerland was one of the few bright spots for Syracuse in Saturday’s 67-58 loss to Notre Dame, coming off the bench for a team-best 15 points. Southerland made 5-of-10 shots, including 3-of-7 3-pointers, and both of his free throws in the defeat.
Cincinnati Players to Watch: G Sean Kilpatrick, 6-4 So. (16 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 39.4% 3s); F Yancy Gates, 6-9 Sr. (12.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 46.5% FG); G Cashmere Wright, 6-0 Jr. (10.8 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.5 rpg). Kilpatrick, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer in the Bearcats’ upset win over Connecticut on Wednesday, leads the Big East with 56 3-pointers made this season, but he went just 2-for-7 in Saturday’s loss to West Virginia. For the season, the sophomore is 56-for-142 for 39.4 percent.
Storylines: A little of the bloom is off of the flower for this matchup after Syracuse was blown out by Notre Dame for its first loss of the season, and Cincinnati dropped an overtime decision at West Virginia on Saturday. Still, the Orange are 7-1 and on top of the Big East standings and the Bearcats are still in the hunt, in a 4-way tie with Marquette, West Virginia and South Florida at 5-2.
Keys: Cincinnati has defeated all three ranked teams it has faced in January – road wins at Pitt (Jan. 1), Georgetown (Jan. 9) and defending national champion Connecticut (Jan. 18). The Hoyas and Huskies were ranked No. 11 at the time. The Orange are 20-0 with Fab Melo and 0-1 without him. Coincidence? It’s hard to tell, but players like Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita will have to do a better job filling in for Melo, who will not play Monday due to an unspecified academic issue, than they did in Saturday’s loss to the Irish. Melo averages 7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and three blocks a game and has been a key to the Orange defense. Syracuse’s 34 percent from the floor was its worst outing of the season and 14 percent lower than its average output. Both teams have been strong from the perimeter. Look for Gates to try to take advantage of Melo’s absence by attacking the rim. The Bearcats are second in the Big East – behind Seton Hall – at 36.8 percent from the 3-point line and lead the Big East with 162 3s made. Syracuse ranks fourth at 35.4 percent. The Orange are first in the Big East in scoring (78.9 ppg), scoring margin (+18.2) and field goal percentage (48.0). Syracuse and Cincinnati ranked 1 & 2, respectively, in turnover margin. The Bearcats force 15.5 errors per contest, while turning it over a league-best 10.5 times per night. Syracuse forces 18.3 turnovers – No. 1 in the Big East – while averaging 11.1 per game itself. The Orange lead the nation in steals at 10.5 per game. Syracuse is 4-1 in true road tests this season and 6-1 away from the Carrier Dome. The Bearcats have arguably been better on the road, where they are 5-2 and had won seven straight in the Big East until Saturday’s loss, than at Fifth-Third Arena. Cincy is 10-3 at home, but it has fallen to Presbyterian College, Marshall and St. John’s in its own arena.
The Bottom Line: Expect Syracuse to come out and play at a high level. If the Orange don’t beat a significantly less talented Cincinnati team – and beat them handily – the Orange’s first 20 games of the season may have been a mirage.
The Pick: Syracuse 84, Cincinnati 69
Greg’s 2011-12 Picks Against the Spread: 42-26