With no player averaging more than 14.0 points, there’s some criticism that Syracuse does not have enough star power to win a national championship.
South Florida also does not have any scoring stars, using defense to develop into one of the Big East’s biggest surprises.
The second-ranked Orange enter with streaks of seven straight wins overall and 20 in a row at home when they meet the Bulls on Wednesday night.
Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) continues to be on course for a top seed in the NCAA tournament despite having no one in the top 15 in the Big East in scoring. Kris Joseph is the Orange’s top scorer, with reserve Dion Waiters second with a 12.0 average.
“Everybody’s said all along ‘OK who’s going to make plays?’” coach Jim Boeheim said. “We got a lot of guys who make plays. I think that’s going to be a good thing. It has been a good thing for us and that’s why where we’re at— different guys can make plays.”
South Florida (17-10, 10-4) does not have a scorer ranked in the conference’s top 35. Augustus Gilchrist’s 10.5 points per game lead the way for a Bulls team that has won 10 Big East games for the first time while earning consideration for an NCAA bid.
“Ten wins in this conference is a big deal, but we are not satisfied and we need to keep winning,” coach Stan Heath said. “We should be a big discussion nationally for what our guys are doing.”
The Bulls excel at the defensive end, allowing an average of 58.2 points for one of the conference’s best marks.
South Florida could have trouble figuring out who to key on for the Orange since Joseph and Waiters were not Syracuse’s top scorers in Sunday’s 74-64 victory at Rutgers. C.J. Fair scored a career-high 21 points and Scoop Jardine added 17.
Fair comes off the bench, but he’s been playing starters’ minutes while averaging 13.4 points in his last five games.
“He’s the guy you have to have if you’re going to win a national championship,” Jardine said. “He can’t be stopped and I know I’m always looking for him. He’s been shooting the ball great.”
The Orange’s balanced attack has produced a Big East-leading 76.8 points per game, while the Bulls are last in the conference at 61.1.
South Florida has proven it can slow down high-scoring players, stifling Ashton Gibbs in its fourth straight win Sunday, 56-47 at Pittsburgh.
Gibbs, the preseason Big East player of the year, scored a season-low two points on 1-of-7 shooting. He was also limited to four points and five turnovers in South Florida’s 63-51 home win Feb. 8.
Freshman guard Anthony Collins scored a season-high 22 points Sunday for the Bulls, seeking their first five-game win streak since a seven-game run Nov. 17-Dec. 8, 2007.
“We do not want to be satisfied with these 10 wins,” Collins said. “We have four more games. We are going to compete and play hard to try to win four more games.”
Syracuse is 8-1 all-time against South Florida, including 5-0 at home.