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January 4, 2014

Orange open ACC play

Syracuse passed all of its early-season tests, finishing the non-conference portion of its schedule unbeaten.

The tests for the Orange will get consistently more challenging soon, though it's tough to say if their ACC debut will be particularly difficult Saturday despite a visit from defending conference champion Miami.

"I'm excited, personally. It's our first year in there," said Syracuse leading scorer C.J. Fair. "We have a lot of expectations from the media and from ourselves. We want to live up to our potential and start (our tenure in) the ACC off strong."

The Orange (13-0) closed out their non-conference slate on another good note, assisting on 20 of 26 made field goals and holding Eastern Michigan to 31.5 percent shooting in a 70-48 win Tuesday.

Freshman Tyler Ennis was scoreless in the win, but he's been a big contributor in his first 13 collegiate games. The point guard is averaging 4.67 assists for every turnover, the second-best ratio in the nation. Over the team's past four games, Ennis has 26 assists compared to just six turnovers while also scoring 12.8 points per game.

"I've had games where I didn't score a lot, but I don't really look at stats to determine how I play," Ennis said. "I think we could have scored a lot more, but the way my teammates are finishing, it wasn't necessary for me to score."

Against Miami (8-5, 0-1), the Orange will see a team that has been playing its best basketball lately, though hardly resembling the team that won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles a year ago.

The Hurricanes got their league schedule started early with a 61-60 home loss to Virginia Tech on Dec. 8, but shot 52.3 percent in winning their past three games by an average of 17.7 points. Miami has kept its last seven opponents under 40.0 percent from the field, holding Loyola (Md.) to 34.0 percent in a 71-48 win Monday - its best defensive showing of the season.

"Miami has really improved," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They started slow, and they've got a lot of young guys. They've really improved their last few games. It'll be a great game Saturday and we're looking forward to it."

Senior Rion Brown (13.8 points per game) is the leading scorer for a Hurricanes team that lost its top six scorers from last season. He made 4 of 6 3-pointers in Miami's win earlier this week, but is a 28.6 percent shooter from long distance on the season for a team that hits 3s at just a 32.3 percent clip - bad news against the Orange's zone.

Miami also rarely gets to the line. The Hurricanes shoot 17.1 free throws per game, among the fewest in the country.

Syracuse should have an edge in the paint with Fair (17.4 points per game) and Jerami Grant (12.9), while Rakeem Christmas is coming off his best game of the season. The junior forward, a 77.8 percent shooter on the season, had 15 points after making 7 of 8 shots in the win over the Eagles.

The Hurricanes know the odds are stacked against them as they face a team that has won 48 of 50 at the Carrier Dome, but are excited to be a part of their former Big East rival's ACC debut.

"It's kind of a special day for them," coach Jim Larranaga said. "For us, it's an opportunity to play one of the premier programs in the country in the largest facility in the country."

Syracuse, one of seven remaining undefeated teams, has won 41 consecutive home games against unranked teams, while Miami has lost its last 10 road games versus top 5 opponents.



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