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December 6, 2012
Jim Boeheim doesn't think Syracuse is ready yet for the rigors of Big East play, but the Orange have nearly a month left against a fairly friendly schedule to tune up.
Their next opponent's non-conference slate - as it typically tends to be - is a bit more treacherous.
Fourth-ranked Syracuse has barely been tested during its 6-0 start, but a Long Beach State team that has plenty of experience against top competition will try to change that Thursday night at the Carrier Dome.
It's been nearly four years since the Orange lost a non-conference game in the regular season, a staggering run that hit 48 with Monday's 84-48 rout of Eastern Michigan.
Syracuse hasn't often struggled recently against non-Big East foes, winning its out-of-conference games since the start of the 2010-11 season by an average of 20.7 points but defeating only three ranked opponents. The Orange began this season with a 62-49 victory over then-No. 20 San Diego State, but they may not see another Top 25 team until visiting Louisville on Jan. 19 - five games into their conference schedule.
"We're trying to get ready for conference play," Boeheim said. "We'll have some tough games, more than enough to get you ready."
Syracuse has won its last 26 games at the Carrier Dome - taking the 14 non-conference contests by an average of 26.6 points - but don't tell Boeheim the rest of his team's pre-Big East slate will be a breeze.
"To just assume we're going to win games is the most arrogant thing I have ever seen in my life," Boeheim said. "I don't like arrogance and I don't like arrogant people. To just think it's going to happen, it doesn't work that way."
Long Beach State (3-4) could present a bigger threat than most non-conference teams that visit central New York.
The 49ers have had one of the nation's top-rated out-of-conference schedules in each of the past three seasons, and this season have already faced North Carolina and Arizona with a visit to No. 7 Ohio State on tap approximately 38 hours after they're finished in Syracuse.
Long Beach lost its top three scorers from last season's team that won at Pittsburgh and beat Xavier en route to an NCAA tournament appearance, and it's averaged just 65.0 points and shot 40.1 percent after Monday's 64-59 loss to Fresno State.
Senior swingman James Ennis (16.4 points per game) is the only returning double-digit scorer.
"They were really good last year," Boeheim said. "I think they have been pretty good. They had UNC in a very tough game for most of the game. These games are learning experiences for us to get better."
Syracuse still has room to grow offensively despite averaging 87.3 points in its past three games. The Orange turned it over 18 times against the Eagles - their fourth game with at least that many - and are shooting 29.5 percent from 3-point range.
Take away James Southerland's shooting from beyond the arc (18 for 38) and Syracuse is hitting just 20.3 percent.
One area where the Orange haven't struggled is sharing the basketball. They're averaging 16.2 assists - among the nation's top 40 - paced by Division I leader Michael Carter-Williams' 9.5 per contest.
The sophomore has averaged 12.0 points, 11.0 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 3.3 steals in his last three games.
Long Beach, on the other hand, averages 9.9 assists to rank among the nation's bottom 30.