SEC/Big East Challenge: Big East Looks to Gain the Edge on Friday Night

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 30th, 2012

After splitting Thursday nights first four games of the SEC/Big East Challenge, the Big East looks poised to take hold of the series with tonight’s four match-ups.  Let’s take a look at Friday’s slate of games.

#6 Syracuse @ Arkansas

Quick trivia question:  when was the last time Syracuse lost a regular season non-conference game?

Answer:  Cleveland State in the Carrier Dome in 2008. You might remember Cedric Jackson’s 60+ foot heave at the buzzer against a Jonny Flynn-led Syracuse team to defeat the Orange, 72-69.  Since that game, Syracuse has swept its non-conference slate, which has included multiple games against Florida and Memphis as well as match-ups against California, North Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, and NC State. The Orange will look to continue that streak against an Arkansas team that looks to make noise in the SEC this season. Arkansas is led by B.J. Young, who is one of the better scorers in the SEC and leads the Razorbacks with 20.5 points in just 26.5 minutes per game so far this year. The Razorbacks put points on the board, averaging 82 per game, but are not an efficient scoring team. They shoot 43.7% from the field and just 27.8% from three-point range, which is not a good sign for a team preparing to go up against a Syracuse zone that they are not familiar with. Arkansas is a good home team, and Bud Walton Arena will be sold out, so the game should prove to be a significant road test for the Orange.  If they can contain Young, and Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland continue their tremendous play, the Orange should be able to escape with a win.

#20 Georgetown vs. Tennessee

Georgetown has been one of the early season’s surprise teams, with a win over UCLA (maybe not that impressive at this point) and a near-upset of top ranked Indiana so far this year. Tennessee has been solid in its own right, sitting at 4-1, although an ugly loss to Oklahoma State has sullied the Vols’ record a bit. The Hoyas, who possess a ton of length in the starting line-up this season, have been mixing defenses this season so far, so expect to see a blend of man as well as some 2-3 zone this season. Three-point shooting may be at a premium for the Vols if their passing can outpace the Hoya rotations when they break out the zone. Trae Golden, Jordan McRae, and Skylar McBee are all solid shooters from deep for Tennessee, but forward Jarnell Stokes may be the toughest match-up for the Hoyas.  The 6’8″, 270-lb sophomore is an effective scorer in the post and is very proficient on the offensive glass.  Georgetown has good length, but they don’t have players who can physically match up with the imposing Stokes. Tennessee is talented, but Georgetown’s balanced attack should prove to be too much for the Vols in DC. Tennessee plays at a slower pace which is very amicable to the Hoyas, and the Georgetown offense has been incredibly efficient all year – the seven major rotation players for John Thompson III are all shooting over 45% from the field this season. Unless Stokes goes off, Georgetown should pull out the win.

Jarnell Stokes is the X-Factor in Tonight’s Georgetown-Tennessee Contest

South Florida v. Georgia

Both the Bulls and Bulldogs have had disappointing starts to their season, so this chapter in the SEC/Big East challenge should allow one of these programs to gain some momentum heading into December. South Florida features a balanced attack similar to that which guided them into the NCAA Tournament last season. Senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick leads the team with 13 points per game, while senior guard Jawanza Poland has chipped in 11 PPG of his own.  On the other hand, Georgia is incredibly reliant on sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is the team’s only double-figure scorer, averaging 17.8 points per game, and leads the team in rebounding and steals. Both teams play games in the 60-point range, so expect the game to follow that pace. While Georgia may have the best player on the floor in Caldwell-Pope, South Florida may have more legitimate options between Fitzpatrick, Poland, and sophomore Anthony Collins who has been quiet early this season.  As long as the Bulls can contain Caldwell-Pope, they should have a great shot of taking this one at home.

DePaul @ Auburn:

The Auburn basketball program probably doesn’t mind the coaching carousel that has enveloped the football team too much, as it has taken a lot of attention off of what has been a very poor start to the season. Auburn has already sustained a blowout loss to Murray State, a 10-point defeat to Dayton, and close losses to a floundering Boston College team and Rhode Island in double overtime. Things haven’t been too rosy in Oliver Purnell’s clubhouse either, as the Blue Demons have dropped games to Wichita State, Gardner-Webb, and Western Kentucky. DePaul will look to run their game through forward Cleveland Melvin, who is averaging an impressive 20.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game so far, and despite his team’s mediocre record and outlook, is one of the Big East’s promising young talents. Junior guard Brandon Young has also stepped up and is contributing 16.3 points per game himself. Auburn is very reliant on lead guard Frankie Sullivan, who carries the scoring load for the Tigers, averaging 18.3 points per contest, but he doesn’t receive much help in that department – Auburn only scores 60 points per game. The Blue Demons should look to play at a quicker pace, and if Melvin has a game that he is capable of, Auburn should have a very difficult time finding an answer for him.

While the SEC has talent at the top with teams like Kentucky and Florida, the Big East has been the deeper league for years, and I expect that they will continue to show it tonight through not only the top programs like Syracuse, but also schools at the end of the bench like DePaul. Look for the Big East to grab three out of four of tonight’s challenge games.

Dan Lyons (78 Posts)

Writer at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and Rush the Court's Big East Microsite. Syracuse '12.


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