Ann Arbor, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The 17th-ranked Michigan Wolverines continue a four-game homestand on Tuesday, as they play host to the Syracuse Orange as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the Crisler Center.
John Beilein's Wolverines have started the season with wins in five of their first six games. The lone loss came to nationally-ranked Villanova (60-55) in last week's Legends Classic. Michigan was able to get some distance from that loss however, opening up its current homestand on Saturday, with a 91-62 rout of Nicholls State.
Jim Boeheim's Orange are also sporting a 5-1 overall record. Syracuse suffered its only loss of the season to California (73-59), but has won three games since, including last week's 72-48 drubbing of Holy Cross.
Syracuse leads the series with Michigan by a count of 8-6. However, it was Michigan which won the last meeting, a 61-56 decision in the 2013 Final Four.
Like has been the case in recent years, it is Syracuse stingy defensive play which fuels its success. Through six games, opponents are averaging just 51.7 ppg against the Orange, while being held well under 40 percent shooting (.341). That number includes an ugly .268 from behind the arc, as Syracuse seems to contest each and every shot. Senior big man Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 250) has taken his game to a new level this season. He is shooting .559 from the floor and leads the team in both scoring (17.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.5 rpg). Freshman Chris McCullough adds to the strong play in the frontcourt with 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Junior Trevor Cooney (10.2 ppg) and freshman Kaleb Joseph (8.5 ppg, 6.1 apg) provide backcourt balance.
Christmas and McCullough were simply too much for Holy Cross to contend with last time out. In all, Syracuse outscored Holy Cross in the paint, 42-16. Christmas was 8-of-10 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free- throw line, finishing with a career-high 25 points. McCullough managed his second career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Joseph had a strong game as well, tallying 14 points of his own, while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out six assists.
Michigan put on an offensive clinic in last week's win over Nicholls State, as the team shot .552 from the floor overall and was even better from long range, draining 14-of-24 3-point attempts (.583). Five players notched double figures in the win, including four starters. Caris LeVert hit five 3-pointers and led all scorers with 24 points. Ricky Doyle came off the bench with 15 points, while other key contributors included Zak Irvin (14 pts), Kameron Chatman (11 pts) and Spike Albrecht (10 pts).
Irvin and LeVert have been a potent one-two punch in the backcourt for Michigan this season. Irvin holds a slight edge in the scoring column at 17.7 ppg, followed closely by LeVert's 17.5 ppg. The pair have combined for 32 of the team's 53 3-pointers through six games. Sophomore point guard Derrick Walton Jr. (13.8 ppg) is the only other Michigan player currently averaging double digits, although he missed the last game due to a foot injury and is listed as questionable for this contest.