Syracuse is off to its best start in a decade.
With the Orange set to begin the Big East portion of their schedule, that start is about to get much tougher to maintain.
No. 5 Syracuse seeks to remain unbeaten Tuesday night when it plays both its first conference game and its first true road contest of the season against feisty Seton Hall and high-scoring guard Jeremy Hazell.
They began the season unranked, but the Orange are playing some of the best ball in the nation thanks to an offense that seems to have no holes. Syracuse is averaging 88.3 points, shooting an astounding 55.3 percent from the field, and winning by an average margin of more than 25 points. Six players have scoring averages of at least 9.5, led by junior forward Wes Johnson’s 16.8 points per game.
Johnson, a transfer from Iowa State, scored 19 with 11 rebounds last Tuesday in a 92-60 rout of Oakland, Mich. Freshman Brandon Triche had a career-high 27 points to lead the Orange.
“When one guy’s down, another picks us up,” said senior guard Andy Rautins, who scored a season-low two points against the Golden Grizzlies but is averaging 9.5. “Brandon’s blossoming at the right time and really stepping into his role. We look forward to seeing him continue to grow.”
Triche is hitting 61.3 percent of his shots - a remarkable feat for a 6-foot-4 guard - including 50 percent from beyond the arc. He hit all six of his 3-point attempts against Oakland.
“I’m just feeling more comfortable,” he said. “Earlier (last Tuesday), I was texting a friend and he said just try to get back to our high school days, just have fun, be comfortable in my game.”
Syracuse is 12-0 for the first time since the 1999-2000 team opened with 19 consecutive wins, but hasn’t had to venture too far outside its comfort zone to get there. Though the Orange have defeated three ranked opponents at neutral sites, they have yet to play a true road game.
That will change Tuesday at the Prudential Center, against the same opponent that dealt the Orange their first loss 10 years ago. Seton Hall ended that Syracuse team’s quest for a perfect season with a 69-67 victory at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 7, 2000.
The current Pirates (9-2, 0-1) appear similarly game. Their 88.1 points per game rank fourth in the nation, just behind Syracuse. Their two losses have both come by six points, including Saturday’s 90-84 overtime defeat to No. 6 West Virginia.
Seton Hall is led by Hazell, a junior averaging 21.9 points and 17.5 field-goal attempts per game. Only four players in the nation shoot more often.
“I’m a shooter and shooters shoot,” Hazell said.
It was hard to argue with the results Saturday. Hazell shot 14 of 33, including 4 of 19 from 3-point range, but finished with 41 points - the most by a Seton Hall player since Terry Dehere had 41 against St. John’s on Feb. 17, 1993.
“He makes shots and that’s why he takes them,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of Hazell. “I don’t know if there’s anyone in our league that can take shots as quick as he does. No one else is making those shots in our league, no way. If you watch tape of them, he might be missing and then all of a sudden, he goes crazy.”
Syracuse has won three straight meetings with the Pirates and nine of 11 since Feb. 10, 2001.