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January 22, 2012It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
Syracuse was supposed to arrive in Cincinnati unblemished, glowing a bright orange spotlight on the game everyone wants to attend.
All they had to do was beat Notre Dame. Even a disjointed early-January Cincinnati team could do that in The Return of Yancy.
And yet this evening, in Cincinnati's first ever Big Monday, Syracuse is not undefeated. They are hardly respected like a number one should be. And they lack two veteran players formerly important to their success.
News hit Saturday afternoon that Syracuse was traveling without Brazilian starting center Fab Melo. Overshadowed was the nearly simultaneous loss of Mookie Jones.
In the past year the two have gone in opposite directions, as it relates to Syracuse basketball. Melo shed enough body to make Charles Barkley jealous while Mookie barked about severely diminished playing time.
Melo earned a reputation nationwide for blocking shots, but also taking charges. His work ethic, in the gym anyway, reached an all-time high.
"They have a huge frontline," said Gates. "They really don't play anyone smaller than 6'7". It is going to be a dogfight."
In truth the three forwards are big, but equally spry. Newly-named starter Rakeem Christmas(6'9"), scorer Kris Joseph (6'8"), and budding star C.J. Fair (6'8") are each blessed with talent to spare. All three should be NBA players at some point.
Immediate mental rebirth
Cash, Yancy, and Coach Cronin entirely dismissed the notion that UC peered into the future and shifted focus to Syracuse prematurely.
"Oh no," said Gates Saturday. "That wasn't the case. A lot of people were writing us about Syracuse and we were like, 'Man they are forgetting about West Virginia.' We really wanted to come in and get this road win."
Now that the fateful day has arrived justifiable focus is on the visiting Syracuse Orange.
And though Yancy was surprised to learn of Melo's absence he figures it won't change his approach.
"We are getting prepared for the ones who are coming into Cincinnati," said Gates.
The opponents will feature the aforementioned frontline along with Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters, and Scoop Jardine.
Triche has powerful shoulders atop a balanced, solid lower body. His defensive posture belongs in textbooks. Jardine initiates the offense and rarely takes a bad shot.
No guard in the BIG EAST shoots a higher field percentage (50.7%) than he.
Unless you count his teammate, Waiters, who Coach Cronin absolutely gushes about.
"It is a good opportunity for us," said Dion Dixon. "We have to win on our home court. Coach is going to get us prepared. They have about ten players, ten great players. We just have to come ready for battle."
A battle that surely include fastbreak points. Every high school player says he wants to play an uptempo game, get up and run. Few college teams truly perfect it like North Carolina, UNLV, Missouri, formerly Michigan State with Mateen Cleaves.
For Cashmere it is their number one strength.
"Points off turnovers," said Wright. "They get up and down. If you let them up and down they get going."
Despite the last second alterations Cincinnati must play great to win. Minus Melo Syracuse is still a grouping of more talented individuals. They still have more defensive-minded guards, capable of handcuffing stars.
The challenge is different but hardly easier.