Surging Orange can't look past DePaul in regular season finale

Riding a four game win streak, Syracuse can lock up a double-bye in the upcoming Big East tournament with a win over DePaul Saturday.

The Syracuse Orange will welcome the DePaul Blue Demons into the Carrier Dome Saturday to end the regular season. The Orange (24-6, 11-6) will look to extend their four-game winning streak heading into the Big East tournament.

Saturday is Senior Night for SU and its lone senior, Rick Jackson. Jackson has progressed each year at SU, after coming in as a raw prospect. He has developed into a presence in the paint both offensively and defensively. Jackson leads the Big East this season in rebounding, field goal percentage, and blocks.

“Rick’s been as steady and consistent a player over his four years as just about anybody we’ve had,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said.

Despite only one win in conference play this season, the Blue Demons (7-22, 1-16) won’t just sit back and let the Orange win this one. DePaul has played better basketball of late, forcing Villanova into overtime and pushing Rutgers down to the wire in the Blue Demons previous game.

“Depaul has played very well,” Boeheim said, “It’s important for us to be ready to play.”

With Seton Hall’s surprising upset of St. John’s Thursday night, the importance of Saturday’s game is even greater. With a win over DePaul, Syracuse would pull into a tie with the Red Storm for fourth place in the conference. Having already defeated the Red Storm earlier in the season, SU would own the tiebreaker, and receive a double-bye in the Big East tournament.

The Blue Demons will be without leading scorer, freshman forward Cleveland Melvin. Melvin sprained him thumb against Rutgers, ending his impressive freshman campaign.  DePaul will miss his athleticism and the 14 points he averages per game.

Freshman Brandon Young is the Blue Demons’ second leading scorer. He is a skilled ball handler and quick penetrator, but not a particularly adept 3-point shooter. Young has been playing with confidence lately and has two consecutive 20 plus scoring games, so the Orange will have to keep an eye on him.

Young will be complemented by the inside game of Tony Freeland and Kyrs Faber. The two starting frontline players combine to average 18 points and 10 rebounds a game.

Rebounding is the biggest weakness for the Blue Demons. They are 320th in Division I in rebounds per game due to a lack of size in the paint and toughness on the glass.

The Blue Demons also struggle from long-range where they shoot 32 percent. Jeremiah Kelly is the only DePaul player who shoots better than 35 percent from deep.

What was once a weakness for most of the season has become a strength in the latter part of Big East play for the Orange. SU’s zone struggled to contain the 3-point shot early on, but during its past two wins over Villanova and Georgetown, opponents have been held to an abysmal 23 percent from deep.

Scoop Jardine has played well during the win streak and has been an integral part of the surge. His intelligent shot selection and distribution of the ball is key to the Syracuse offense being effective. Last week, in two big away games, he averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 assists.

Jackson has also returned to his productive play down the stretch. He continues to average a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards.

One blow for the Orange, athletic freshman C.J. Fair will not play Saturday. He injured his ankle last week, and Boeheim said he is still experiencing pain and has not been able to participate in a full practice.

Tipoff for the ‘Cuse’s final home game is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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