The Syracuse Orange are the top team in the land for the second straight week, and they will continue preparations for what promises to be another challenging Big East Conference slate as they entertain the Bucknell Bison tonight at the Carrier Dome.
Bucknell recovered from an 0-2 start, by winning five in a row to build some much-needed confidence. A pair of losses in its next two games had the team hovering around the .500 mark, but coach Dave Paulsen's club has bounced back by winning each of its last two bouts, the most recent of which being a 79-65 decision at home over Richmond on Saturday. The Bison, who begin Patriot League play at Army on January 7, have never upset the No. 1 team in the country, but ironically their last win over a ranked opponent came at Syracuse in a 74-69 final on November 22, 2005.
The Orange are 11-0 for the third straight season, and they are coming off their first true road game of the campaign. It was believed by many that Syracuse could lose when it made the trek south to challenge NC State in Raleigh over the weekend, but coach Jim Boeheim's squad took care of the Wolfpack in an 88-72 final. SU has won 29 straight non-conference home games, and the team will host Tulane on Thursday before breaking for Christmas. The Big East schedule gets underway next Wednesday at home against Seton Hall.
Despite the loss to Bucknell in the last meeting back in '05, Syracuse holds an 8-1 series advantage.
Bucknell boasts a balanced attack that relies more on efficiency than explosiveness, and while there are four double-digit scorers in the fold, the team averages a modest 67.4 ppg. The Bison are hitting their field goals 46.2 percent of the time, and their three-pointers at a near 40 percent clip (.395). They also own a favorable margin in rebounding (+6.9), but they come up with fewer than 10 turnovers per outing. They do however, allow just 62.1 ppg on a typical shooting effort of only 38.8 percent. Cameron Ayers (13.2 ppg) is the team's leading scorer, and he is a long-range threat (21-of-38, .553), while Mike Muscala is close to averaging a double-double with his 13.0 points and 9.2 caroms per contest. Ayers matched his career high with 23 points, and Muscala put forth a monster effort with 22 points and 12 rebounds, as Bucknell topped Richmond at home on Saturday. Bryson Johnson came off the bench to score 18 points in the second half, a period in which the Bison shot a sizzling 70 percent from the floor, and converted all 21 of their free throws.
Kris Joseph poured in a season-high 21 points and the Orange made their first true road game of the season a positive experience as they notched a 16-point win at NC State. Joseph is the team's leading scorer after 11 games, netting 14.4 ppg, and he also paces the unit's rebounding effort with 6.0 rpg. Dion Waiters, who tallied a career-high 22 points in the recent win, is averaging 12.8 points and more than three assists per outing, all while coming off the bench in every game this season. With Waiters leading the way, the SU bench outscored NCSU's reserves, 46-4. Brandon Triche is SU's final double-digit scorer on the year, but his 10.2 ppg come on just 41.9 percent field goal efficiency. As a team, the Orange are shooting 48.4 percent from the floor, knocking down 35.6 percent of their three-point tries along the way. They win the battle on the boards by 3.1 rpg, but they have goaded the opposition into almost 100 more turnovers than they've committed (222-127). As a result, Syracuse is outscoring foes by a staggering 22.2 ppg (80.8 to 58.6).