WHO: No. 7 Syracuse (13-1) at USF (9-3)
WHEN: Sunday at noon
WHERE: Sun Dome
TV: WFTS, Big East Network
RADIO: 98.7-FM The Fan (Jim Lighthall and Todd Kalas)
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - The Bulls have stepped up their game in time for the most crucial part of the season - Big East play.
The USF men's basketball team takes a four-game winning streak into Sunday's much anticipated conference opener against No. 7 Syracuse at the Sun Dome. The Bulls set a school record with 12 Big East victories last season and know starting off hot could fuel another memorable run.
"We have a tough Big East schedule this year, a lot of good teams twice, so we have to start off with a win," Victor Rudd said.
USF (9-3) is two wins ahead of the pace set by last season's NCAA tournament team and keeping the momentum going against the Orange (13-1) won't be easy. Syracuse has won three straight and started its Big East slate off with a 78-53 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday that marked No. 903 in coach Jim Boeheim's career. Boeheim is now alone in second place all-time in the Division I men's rankings after passing Bobby Knight the last time out.
"You get to play against one of the best coaches to ever do it and they're always one of the best teams in the country every year. It's an honor to play against them," Rudd said.
USF definitely has Syracuse's respect after the Bulls had the lead for much of the first half in last season's 56-48 loss at the Carrier Dome. The Bulls know scoring will again be difficult against Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense that can be considered a second offense when the Orange are playing well.
"You can't simulate the length of Syracuse in their 2-3 zone, so the experience factor is huge and the guys knowing how to attack it," USF head coach Stan Heath said.
Five Bulls on last season's roster that have played against Syracuse are back and four will be available for Sunday's game with senior Shaun Noriega expected to miss his fifth straight game with a foot injury.
Solid point guard play is crucial for a team to have success against Syracuse and USF's Anthony Collins now has the benefit of seeing it once before. The sophomore had 12 points and 10 assists in last season's meeting and is coming off his second double-double of the season.
"You never know what it's like until you play against (Syracuse's zone). They're long, they push you out and you know to know how to attack it," Rudd said. "I think AC did a good job last year of attacking it. If we do that and knock down a few more shots than we did last year, we should have a chance at beating them."