MBB: Orange prepare for a visit from the Gators

The Syracuse University men's basketball team readies itself for its first matchup against a ranked opponent this season with the Florida Gators coming to the Carrier Dome Friday.

It has been two years since the No. 3 Syracuse University men’s basketball team (7-0, 5-0 home) has faced the No. 9 Florida Gators (5-1, 2-1 road), and in those two years, a lot has changed for both programs. Syracuse has an entirely new frontcourt with the additions of sophomore centers Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita, as well as freshman center Rakeem Christmas. For Florida, only senior guard Erving Walker, junior forward Erik Murphy and junior guard Kenny Boynton remain from the last meeting in 2009. 

The one consistent between the two teams is the head coach. SU’s Jim Boeheim has been with the SU for 36 years, while Florida’s Billy Donavan has coached at Florida for 15. 

Syracuse is coming off an 84-48 runaway victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome. The Orange are averaging 83.1 points per game, good for 15th in the nation.

Basketball isn’t the only thing that's been in the news for Syracuse basketball in recent weeks, as long-time assistant coach Bernie Fine was fired Sunday amid new developments regarding allegations that he sexual abused three men during his 35-year career as an assistant coach at SU. 

In a press conference after SU’s win on Tuesday night, Boeheim made it known that the players are not focused on the recent scandal. 

“The players will not be distracted,” Boeheim said. “If we lose a game it’s not going to be because they’re distracted. We will keep them focused.”

Senior forward Kris Joseph confirmed Boeheim’s remarks, claiming that the team will remain focused despite all the off-court issues surrounding the program.

“I don’t listen to anything that anyone really says,” Joseph said. “I don’t think any of us do just because we are that focused.”

As soon as the EMU game ended, the SU players began talking about how they were going to play against a very tough Florida team.

Junior guard Brandon Triche said that Florida was very quick and tries to get teams to turn the ball over. Defensively, Triche said that the Orange going to return to their zone defense. 

Joseph, who has been on the team the last two times the Orange played Florida, is looking forward to his third match-up against the Gators.

“So far since I’ve been here we’ve played them twice and won both those match-ups,” Joseph said. “They are a tough team. Coached by a great coach. It’s going to be a good one I’m looking forward to it.”

Florida is coming off a 96-70 victory against Stetson in which coach Donavan won his 400th game with the program. 

“It’s hard to believe,” Donovan said, courtesy of the University of Florida Athletic Association, Monday night after the game. “It’s certainly a reflection that time is moving on.”   

The Gators have won three straight since falling to No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 15, and look to get their first victory against a top-10 opponent. 

For Syracuse, it will be their first game against a ranked opponent this season, something junior forward James Southerland sees as a great opportunity for the team to show its skills.

“Its our first really big challenge of the year,” Southerland said. “We gotta make sure we bring our A-game.”

The three players SU has seen before, Walker, Murphy and Boyton, will give the Orange the most trouble Friday. Walker and Murphy average 13.7 and 10.0 points-per-game this season, respectively, while Boyton leads the team with 18.5 points-per-game.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. Friday in the Carrier Dome and will air on ESPN3.com. The game is part of the annual Big East-SEC Challenge between the two program's respective conferences. 


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