Tulane-Syracuse Preview

MIKE LIPKA
The Associated PressDecember 22, 2011

While Tulane's record may be enough to get the attention of the nation's No. 1 team, it's safe to say the Green Wave haven't encountered anything quite like they will in the Carrier Dome.

Top-ranked Syracuse can ensure a 13-0 record entering Big East play by winning its third game in six days Thursday night against the well-rested visitors from New Orleans.

Tulane (11-1) is off to its best start since 1991-92 but hasn't faced any ranked teams and has only played two true road games - a narrow victory over Navy and a loss to Wofford.

The powerful Orange present an entirely different challenge, something of which second-year Green Wave coach Ed Conroy is well aware.

"They are as good a Syracuse team I've seen," Conroy told Tulane's official website. "They are extremely deep. Their defense is tremendous and feeds the offense and gets them out in transition where their great players have space to play."

A torrid start is nothing new for Syracuse, which began 13-0 in 2009-10 and 18-0 last season, but this team has overcome ongoing distractions from allegations of child molestation against fired assistant coach Bernie Fine.

The highlight of this non-conference season was a 72-68 win over then-No. 10 Florida on Dec. 2, and the Orange have kept rolling with a pair of victories in the past week. After winning 88-72 at North Carolina State on Saturday, they stifled Bucknell in an 80-61 victory at home Tuesday.

"There's going to be some games you're going to be more excited about than others," coach Jim Boeheim said. "We made some really good plays in the first half. We just made some good decisions to get some people open and knocked down some shots."

While top scorer Kris Joseph led the way with 17 points Tuesday, nine of his teammates also scored and 12 players grabbed at least one rebound.

Rising to the occasion just in time for this weekend's holiday, freshman Rakeem Christmas scored his team's first seven points. He finished with a season-high 10 on 4-of-5 shooting along with two blocked shots in just 14 minutes.

"When I get involved early, it makes me play harder," Christmas said. "Coach wants me to start yelling at people and get more mad."

While Syracuse has been busy, Tulane hasn't played since Dec. 11, when it beat Jacksonville State 59-51 in the finale of the Skip Prosser Tournament.

"The layoff has been great for us," Conroy said. "We were able to focus on exams and the things we are here for and then we got a chance to get some practices under our belt with the focus on playing the No. 1 team in the country."

The Green Wave use a balanced attack, with four players scoring more than 10.0 points per game. Freshman guard Ricky Tarrant has come on strong lately, averaging 17.3 points in four December games.

Sophomore Josh Davis is averaging a double-double, ranking in the top 20 nationally with 10.2 rebounds per contest, but he'll find a tough interior presence in Syracuse sophomore Fab Melo. The Brazilian 7-footer has blocked at least three shots in seven games this season.

The Orange, who open conference play Wednesday against Seton Hall, won 73-60 on Dec. 1, 2007, in their only previous meeting with Tulane.