Competing with the top offenses in the Big East appears to have brought out the worst in Syracuse’s defense.
The 20th-ranked Orange seek improvement in that area and try to avoid their worst losing streak in three years as they host West Virginia on Wednesday night.
Syracuse (17-5, 5-4) posted a 13-1 record versus non-conference opponents, limiting those teams to an average of 67.9 points on 38.7 percent shooting.
But the Orange haven’t been as stingy in nine Big East contests, giving up 74.6 points per game while opponents have shot 43.3 percent. Among the six ranked teams in the conference, Syracuse is the only one giving up more than 68.0 points per game (70.2).
The Orange have allowed three of their last five opponents to shoot at least 53.0 percent from the field, most recently in last Wednesday’s 100-94 loss at Providence. It was the first time in 51 contests that an opponent reached the century mark against Syracuse.
“If we don’t stop anybody and we don’t play better D, we can’t be the team we want to be,” said guard Jonny Flynn, who scored a career-best 35 points in the Orange’s third straight loss overall.
This is the fourth straight season the Orange have dropped three straight, but they haven’t lost four in a row since Jan. 16-29, 2006.
Syracuse held West Virginia (15-6, 4-4) to an average of 62.1 points on 37.4 percent shooting during an eight-game series winning streak, but couldn’t maintain that success in the most recent matchup. The Mountaineers shot 47.5 percent en route to their 81-61 home victory on Jan. 13, 2008.
However, West Virginia has not been very good offensively of late, averaging 67.1 points and hitting 40.5 percent from the field over its last eight games. It was held below both of those averages on Saturday, and trailed by 20 points at halftime in a 69-63 defeat at then-No. 7 Louisville.
Da’Sean Butler scored 23 points, Alex Ruoff added 16 and Devin Ebanks had 14 for the Mountaineers, who shot 35.6 percent.
“We talked and talked and talked about it being a 40-minute game, not a 30-minute game,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We didn’t deal with their pressure very well in the first half.”
On defense, though, Huggins’ squad has been among the best in the Big East, yielding an average of 60.0 points in conference play.
That defense figures to be challenged by a Syracuse offense that ranks among the conference leaders in both scoring (80.0 points per game) and shooting (49.8 percent) in Big East games.
Guard Eric Devendorf scored a season-high 27 points against Providence, and started for the first time in nine games with Andy Rautins sidelined by a sprained right ankle. Rautins’ status is uncertain for Wednesday, as is the case for teammate Arinze Onuaku.
The junior center, averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 boards, was held scoreless with one rebound in 15 minutes off the bench as he dealt with two swollen knees versus the Friars.
Onuaku had 15 points and seven boards last season versus the Mountaineers, who were led by Ruoff’s 23 points in that game.
Syracuse is 12-2 at the Carrier Dome, holding visitors to an average of 66.4 points on 37.9 percent shooting. West Virginia has averaged 63.1 points in losing seven straight there since a 101-79 victory on Dec. 4, 1996.