The strong wind whipped the American flag and dozens of signal flags on the island of the USS Midway…
Game Day Breakdown: #9 Syracuse vs. #20 SDSU
Time: 1:00 p.m. PST
Location: USS Midway in San Diego, CA
TV: Fox Sports San Diego
Radio: KOGO 95.7 FM & AM 600
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim
Syracuse Record: 890-304 / 37th season
Projected Starting Lineup
*G – Brandon Triche (Sr.) 6'4, 210
Triche is the top returning starter for 'Cuse. He earned a spot on the Preseason All-Big East Second Team after 9.4 points per game last season. He'll be the senior leader for a team with final four potential.
G – Michael Carter-Williams (So.) 6'8, 185
The talented sophomore will get his shot right away this season with the departure of Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. He's had 31 points and 15 assists in two exhibition games.
"I think he's playing good," Boeheim said of Carter-Williams after Syracuse's second exhibition game. "He's smart, has made better decisions. Didn't force the ball. Pulled it out a couple times. 8 to 2, 8 assists, 2 turnovers. We can live that."
F – C.J. Fair (Jr.) 6'8, 215
Fair has been a rotational player for the squad in his freshman and sophomore year but finished the season last year as a starter after Syracuse lost Fab Melo. He now takes over that role full time.
*F – Rakeem Christmas (So.) 6'9, 242
While Christmas did start last year for Syracuse, he only played 11.5 minutes per game. He's still an athletic big man that is developing on both ends of the floor.
"I think he's getting up and down the court good," Boeheim on the offensive development of Christmas after their second exhibition game. "He got down there a couple times today. Used his speed and I think that's something he can do."
F – DaJuan Coleman (Fr.) 6'9, 288
The 19th ranked prospect coming out of high school in 2012 will make his collegiate debut against San Diego State, team that will be test his endurance right off the bat. The freshman is an absolute beast in the paint as he's not afraid to throw his large frame around and he'll have a clear weight advantage against any Aztec big.
Senior forward James Southerland has averaged 17 points per game over the two exhibition outings, the second-best mark on the team. He's connected on 13-of-16 shots from the field, including 8-for-9 from downtown. 6-foot-8 freshman forward Jerami Grant, 39th ranked prospect in 2012, is a do it all athletic specimen. As far as how he'll do this season Boeheim said, "time will tell." Other key rotational players include sophomore guard Trevor Cooney and 6-foot-10 big man Baye Keita.
San Diego State (0-0)
Head Coach: Steve Fisher
SDSU Record: 258-160 / 14th season
Projected Starting Lineup
*G – Xavier Thames (Jr.) 6'3, 190
"We're very comfortable," Thames said of the playing against the 2/3 zone. "Now we get extra time to work on it as well. We've been working on it for the past 10 days. We're getting comfortable. I know the coaches will have us prepared for Sunday as well."
*G – Chase Tapley (Sr.) 6'3, 195
"Chase is the wily veteran who has been a four--year starter for us," Fisher said of Tapley. "You expect him to play with a little more poise and make plays because that's what seniors who have started and been in big games are supposed to do. He made some big plays. He can score the ball, knows how to score the ball."
First game of the season is nationally televised against a top-10 team. That's the type of game a senior is expected to step up in.
*F – Jamaal Franklin (Jr.) 6'5, 205
Franklin needs to show the world against Syracuse why he's receiving so much preseason hype. There will be stretches that SDSU will struggle on offense and the junior wing is the only guy that has the ability to take a game over. He needs to be "Super Mario" by taking it to the rim.
F – J.J. O'Brien (So.) 6'7, 225
The transfer will be the key inside the zone offense. Aztecs will depend on him heavily in the lane to create not just for himself but others. O'Brien looks closer to 6-foot-5 than 6-foot-7 so the sophomore will need to muscle up come Sunday.
"They are much bigger than us. They are athletic, stronger than us," O'Brien said of Syracuse's front court. "It's basketball and we are going to play basketball. We are going to play defense, be strong, box out, rebound and do our part. We'll be fine."
F – Deshawn Stephens (Sr.) 6'8, 225
Stephens will have more than his hands full with the front line of Syracuse. One thing is for certain is that his rebound total against the Orangeman has to exceed his total of what he had vs. UCSD (1). If the senior is pushed around in the paint and the Aztecs get beat up on the glass, it will be a long day.
"From a basketball standpoint, he's a young guy," Fisher described Stephens. "And every experience is so good for him. He made tremendous strides in the offseason to grow his game."
"You never have to worry about him playing hard. He gives you every ounce of energy that he's got. He listens, tries to do what you ask him to do."
Aztecs are now down to 4 guys on the bench after freshman wing Matt Shrigley decided to redshirt this season. Winston Shepard will be thrown into the fire right away, possibly guarding whoever has the hot hand by the time he gets into the game. His playmaking will help attack the zone and push the ball in transition. James Rahon will need to stretch the floor and be able to knock down the open shot. The first game for Skylar Spencer's career could be the toughest of the season as Coleman and Keita are extremely physical and will look to pound him around the basket. Dwayne Polee is another puzzle piece off the pine.
(* Returning Starter)
Keys to the Game
1) Early offense. How do you beat a zone? By beating it down the floor. It is necessary for the Aztecs to push the ball at every opportunity. SDSU's chances of winning this game will go up dramatically if this game turns into a track meet instead of a walk it up half-court game.
2) Can't settle from outside. San Diego State must get the ball inside the Syracuse 2/3 zone. O'Brien, Polee and Shepard will be the playmakers in the key and will need to be able to read the defense to either take it to the rim, make a play or kick it to the open teammate. When the Aztecs do shoot from outside it needs to be non-contested shot after an extra pass.
3) Turnovers. Both Hall of Fame coaches have been preaching ball security all preseason. In a game that will most likely be a poor shooting night for both teams, each squad will need to have as many possessions and shot attempts as possible. Which defense will cause more issues for the opposition: the 2/3 zone or full court man-to-man?
What to Watch
What will be like at tip off? There have already been two aircraft carrier games cancelled due to "condensation." While there shouldn't be any moisture come Sunday afternoon, the wind could be a little gutsy; it was 15mph at kickoff for the SDSU football game on Saturday afternoon. It's expected to be 67 degrees and sunny, will there be a glare off the hardwood? The list of question marks goes on. The weather could have a major influence during the Battle on the Midway.
After Two Exhibition Games
San Diego State
"I don't think I've learned a whole lot more," Fisher said. "We have depth, versatility with how we can play. We have to get better with our defense, taking care of the ball and rebounding the ball."
"I think we have accomplished everything we could at this stage," Boeheim said. "I think they have worked hard. They are as prepared as could be at this stage. It's still early but we have a lot to learn. It's a process and it takes time."
"I think they are better than that [top-25 team]. They are a really good NCAA team last year. They have all their guys back and they got some new guys that are very, very talented. I think they will be a top-10, top-15 team this year."
-Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim on #20 SDSU.
Assuming the game will be played, I still expect the weather to influence the game more than anyone expects; resulting in horrid shooting numbers. Syracuse will pack the paint with their long, athletic, talented players as SDSU will settle too much from outside. The Aztecs will need to hit on at least two of the three keys to win their first game of the season on the USS Midway.
Syracuse 67 San Diego State 58
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