NEW YORK (AP) – Syracuse is one of five remaining unbeaten Division I teams, and the only regular-season meeting with St. John’s would appear to be an ideal chance to keep that run going.
The improved Red Storm, however, will likely provide a much stiffer challenge this time.
The fourth-ranked Orange look to continue dominating their in-state rival Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse (16-0, 3-0 Big East) is among an elite group of remaining unbeaten teams with top-ranked Duke, No. 2 Ohio State, third-ranked Kansas and No. 6 San Diego State. The Orange’s start is their best since winning a team-record 19 in a row in 1999-2000.
Syracuse has won 10 of the last 11 meetings with St. John’s (10-4, 3-1), and five in a row at MSG since Feb. 19, 2000.
Syracuse also has a four-game winning streak against the Red Storm with the last two coming by an average of 24.0 points. An 85-66 home win on March 2 clinched last season’s Big East regular-season title for the Orange.
St. John’s, however, has won five of its last six games, including a 61-58 upset of then-No. 13 Georgetown on Jan. 3. They followed that by falling 76-61 at then-14th-ranked Notre Dame on Saturday.
Still, the Red Storm received four votes in the latest AP poll, and handing the Orange their first defeat could improve St. John’s chances of cracking the Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 28, 2000.
First-year coach Steve Lavin doesn’t want to dwell on the defeat to the Fighting Irish, who visit the Garden on Sunday.
“You look back long enough so you can learn and then move forward,” Lavin said. “Stay in the present, stay in the moment and get ready for Syracuse. In this league, you can’t allow one loss to bleed into two or three.”
Syracuse will try to use a zone defense to stifle the Red Storm, who shot 38.2 percent from the floor Saturday. The Orange allow a conference-low 37.2 percent shooting, while giving up 59.8 points per game to rank second to Cincinnati’s 54.9.
“This particular team brings a lot of size and length and they present problems because they don’t give you a lot of good looks at the basket,” Lavin said of Syracuse. “There’s just not much air space around the basket and in the paint.”
The Orange’s strong defensive play came up big in Saturday’s 61-56 win over Seton Hall as they held the Pirates to 31.3 percent shooting and 3 of 26 from beyond the arc.
Syracuse, though, will need to be better from the line after making 17 of 36 free throws. Brandon Triche bailed the Orange out by scoring all 15 of his points in the opening 8:20 of the second half, including four 3-pointers.
The sophomore guard is scoring 9.7 points per game.
“Brandon Triche hitting those 3s was our offense and we made a couple of plays when we had to,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “If he doesn’t hit those 3s and we still miss 19 free throws, it would have been different, very different.”
Forward Kris Joseph is averaging 21.3 points over the last four games, but managed just 15 while going 8-for-17 from the line versus Seton Hall.
St. John’s Dwight Hardy is looking to improve after scoring eight points Saturday. The senior guard had averaged 21.6 points over the previous seven games.
© 2011 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.