It has been an up-and-down season for Syracuse, but Jim Boeheim's team is building momentum heading into next week's Big East tournament.
Winners of four in a row, the 12th-ranked Orange can earn a double-bye in the tournament with a victory over lowly DePaul on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.Syracuse (24-6, 11-6) appeared to be well on its way to a double-bye after opening the season with 18 consecutive wins, but that was followed by a 2-6 stretch, raising several questions about the team's toughness and confidence.The Orange have seemed to quiet their critics by winning their last four games, with the last two coming on the road over ranked foes. After beating then-No. 15 Villanova 69-64 on Feb. 21, Syracuse defeated then-No. 11 Georgetown 58-51 last Saturday.Boeheim went with a slightly bigger lineup for much of that game as the Orange limited the Hoyas to 36.0 percent shooting."The small lineup is good for us but there are going to be games where we have to have the big lineup," Boeheim said.Whichever lineup Boeheim has decided to use in his 2/3 zone lately seems to working. Syracuse is allowing 61.8 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting during the winning streak after giving up an average of 70.9 points on 45.4 percent shooting in its previous eight games.This could spell trouble for a DePaul team that already is locked into the final seed in the Big East tournament and is preparing to play its third game without leading scorer Cleveland Melvin. The freshman, who averaged 14.3 points, will miss the rest of the season for the Blue Demons (7-22, 1-16) with a sprained left thumb."That's 15 points a game, it's hard to make up for that," coach Oliver Purnell said after Wednesday's 68-64 loss to Rutgers.Freshman Brandon Young has carried the Blue Demons' offense with Melvin out, combining for 44 points in the last two games.Syracuse's offense is led by Kris Joseph, who averages 14.3 points, but he hasn't had much of an impact lately, totaling 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting in the last two contests.Scoop Jardine stepped up as Joseph struggled against Georgetown, scoring seven of his 17 points during an 11-3 run late in the second half that helped Syracuse turn a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead.Jardine also came up big with some big shots down the stretch in last season's 59-57 comeback win at DePaul in the teams' most recent meeting.The then-No. 4 Orange trailed by 18 points in the first half and needed a late 16-2 run to win. Jardine scored five of Syracuse's last 10 points and his layup with 3:37 left gave the Orange their first lead.Joseph had 15 points in that game while Rick Jackson, the lone senior to be recognized before Saturday's home finale, finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.Syracuse has won four straight in this series since a 108-69 loss March 2, 2006.The Blue Demons, whose lone conference win came at Providence on Feb. 17, have lost 29 consecutive games against ranked opponents since defeating then-No. 17 Villanova 84-76 on Jan. 3, 2008. They've also lost 14 straight road contests against Top 25 teams since an 84-81 victory over then-No. 16 Wake Forest on Dec. 13, 2005.