Keeping these gaudy records intact over this next week won’t be easy for either squad.
The fourth-ranked Orange open a stretch against three straight ranked foes Saturday when they face the No. 25 Bearcats, who begin a daunting three-game road swing.
Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 Big East), two wins away from matching the school’s best start set in 1999-2000, is paired with second-ranked Ohio State, No. 3 Kansas and sixth-ranked San Diego State as the nation’s lone remaining unbeatens. The Orange kept their perfect record intact with Wednesday’s 76-59 win over St. John’s.
Strong defense has been key for both the Orange and Bearcats.
Cincinnati leads the Big East in scoring defense at 55.6 points, while Syracuse is second at 59.8 and first in field goal defense at 37.2 percent.
Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone limited the Red Storm to 36.8 percent shooting and helped keep the Orange in the game early when the offense struggled, missing 8 of its first 11 shots.
“The defense was good early because we really needed it,” Boeheim said.
Kris Joseph led Syracuse with 18 points, Brandon Triche added 15 and Scoop Jardine finished with 14. Over the last five games, Joseph is averaging 20.6 points - 5.3 better than his team-leading average - while Jardine is averaging 16.6 points on 58.0 percent shooting.
“I think our better guys have been good and that’s the key for us,” Boeheim said.
Boeheim will likely need his better players to perform at a high level over this next week.
After facing the Bearcats for the first time since February’s 71-54 victory in Cincinnati, the Orange visit fifth-ranked Pittsburgh on Monday and then next Saturday host Villanova, which remained No. 7 in the latest poll.
The Bearcats are embarking on a difficult stretch of their own.
After facing Syracuse, which has won four of the last five meetings, Cincinnati travels to South Bend to play ninth-ranked Notre Dame on Wednesday and then visits St. John’s next Saturday. The Bearcats have lost 17 straight road games against Top 25 teams since beating No. 21 Marquette on Jan. 14, 2004.
“Are we ready for it? We’ll see,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “I take them one at a time. I like the fact that we physically match up with Syracuse. We are at that point where we have veterans. For us, it will be a matter of execution. We have to have great toughness and execution.”
Cronin would probably also like to see a bit more production from his top scorer.
Dion Dixon, averaging a team-best 12.5 points, has been held to single digits in three of his last six games.
With Dixon and the offense struggling to get in gear against South Florida, freshman Sean Kilpatrick provided a spark with 18 points off the bench, as the Cincinnati reserves scored 39 points.
“That’s our job, for us coming off the bench,” said Kilpatrick, who has made just one start. “When you have guys like that - energetic guys especially - then you have an advantage over a lot of people.”
Kilpatrick has regularly been called upon for offense, but has been hit-or-miss. Since Dec. 23, Kilpatrick is averaging 16.0 points on 57.5 percent shooting in four games, but has combined for just two points on 1 of 9 shooting in the other three.