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Syracuse and Georgia Tech don’t have much of a history on the basketball court. Prior to last season’s win by the Yellow Jackets, the two schools had only met four times. Yet Syracuse fans have a long, proud history of hating Georgia Tech, and it all comes down to one man and his shady ways: Bobby Cremins. Some of you may be too young to remember, but on two occasions, Cremins managed to swoop into New York City and pluck star point guards who were all but Orange.

The first one was Kenny Anderson, whose recruitment still stings when long time Syracuse fans are forced to remember it. It was a situation in which Bobby Cremins gave a scholarship to the team manager at Anderson’s high school, while Anderson was still a junior, just to try to get an edge. Anderson could have paired with Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens, but instead headed south to Georgia Tech.

Next in line was Stephon Marbury a few years later. Marbury had grown up wanting to play for Syracuse. Go pick up Darcy Frey’s book The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams*, which chronicles the lives and recruitments of several basketball stars from Coney Island, including a (very) young Marbury. In that book, Marbury was quoted saying he’d always wanted to play in the Carrier Dome. Ultimately, Cremins struck again, but fortunately for Syracuse fans, Marbury’s freshman season just happened to coincide with a pretty magical run for John Wallace and company.

So while the Orange and the Jackets haven’t tangled much on the court, and certainly not in any high stakes scenarios, there’s been plenty of bad blood built up thanks to the wonderful world of high school recruiting. One can only imagine how much more ire would be thrown toward Georgia Tech right now if Cremins, who was originally set to be a part of the panel deciding Syracuse’s fate with its possible NCAA penalties, hadn’t stepped down due to his relationship with Jim Boeheim.

All that said, this is an important stretch for this Syracuse team. Looking at the remaining schedule, the Orange are planted firmly in what most would call the “easy” part of the schedule, though “easy” is pretty relative given the up and down nature of this Syracuse team. Toward the end of the month and into February, the Orange have to face the likes of Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Louisville, meaning every win that Boeheim’s squad can rack up right now is crucial for any NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Jackets enter the game at 9-4 overall and 0-1 in ACC play, having lost in overtime to Notre Dame in South Bend over the weekend. Other losses have come against Marquette, USC Upstate, and Dayton. Their wins haven’t been particularly impressive, beating the likes of Northwestern, Charlotte, and Rhode Island, but it’s still a team with good size and athleticism, and after taking the Irish to double overtime, no doubt enters tonight’s game with a lot of confidence.

One of the keys for the Orange will be to limit Georgia Tech’s ability to rebound. The Yellow Jackets have out-rebounded opponents by an average of 11 boards per game this season, and a big reason why they were able to hang with Notre Dame was a dominant performance on the glass. The Jackets pounded the Irish on the boards at the offensive end, grabbing 19, and finished with a 46-31 edge in overall rebounds.

A couple of the names to know for Georgia Tech are Charles Mitchell and Marcus Georges-Hunt, the team’s top two guys in terms of production. Georges-Hunt is a 6-foot-5 forward who leads the team with 13.5 points per game, and he adds 5.4 boards, while the 6-foot-8 Mitchell is second on the team with 10.6 points and leads the Jackets with 7.8 rebounds per game.

There are a lot of ways to describe how tonight’s game might look, and perhaps the most apt would be “rock fight.” That’s because, believe it or not, Georgia Tech actually shoots the ball worse from the perimeter than Syracuse. The Jackets are making just 23.9% from long range, and in fact only hitting 42.7% of their field goals overall. By contrast, Syracuse’s numbers in those two categories are 29% and 45.4%, respectively. 

The two guys most likely to get hot from outside are Quinton Stephens and Chris Bolden. Stephens is a 6-foot-9 forward who has started most of the season and has knocked down a team-best 17 threes at a 33.3% clip, and Bolden is a 6-foot-3 guard who comes off the bench to shoot 30% from long range, and is second on the team with 12 makes. No one else on the team shoots better than 28% from deep, so the Orange should be fine to pack in the zone and concentrate on limiting Georgia Tech’s damage in the paint and on the offensive glass.

When a team shoots as poorly as Georgia Tech, you might expect them to get to a 9-4 record because of a tenacious defense that forces a lot of turnovers, but that’s not really the case here. In fact, the Jackets have turned the ball over more than their opponents, with a dismal assist-to-turnover ratio as a team. Georgia Tech has 156 assists against 172 turnovers, compared to 226 assists and 183 turnovers for the Orange.

The bottom line is that this has all the makings of one butt ugly game. Don’t be surprised if the final score winds up being in the high 50’s or maybe the low 60’s, based on what could be some pretty prolonged stretches of bad offense on both ends of the court.

This is a game that Syracuse should win. The Orange are favored by either 2 or 3 points, depending on where you look, and if I were a betting man I would pick Syracuse to cover and earn its fifth straight win tonight. The game can be viewed on ESPNU and ESPN3.

*Seriously, if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor. The Last Shot is a phenomenal read.

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