Last of the Unbeatens: Syracuse faces tough upcoming slate

Will the magic of Tyler Ennis and Syracuse run out this weekend? (USATSI)
Will the magic of Tyler Ennis and Syracuse run out this weekend? (USATSI)

Welcome back to our feature, “Last of the Unbeatens,” where we run through each of the undefeated teams remaining in the country – as well as where they might suffer their first loss.

And the run continues with two unbeaten teams.

Wichita State is still rolling, with no end to its unbeaten season in sight. Meanwhile, Syracuse could just as easily have two losses right now. The Orange barely got past Pittsburgh and North Carolina State last week.

Now we head into the home stretch, with just four games remaining for Wichita State and six regular-season contests on the schedule for Syracuse.

We might be down to one team next week, by the way.

Syracuse (25-0)

What they’ve done recently: Heading into the final minute of each of last week’s games, it didn’t seem like Syracuse would still be on this list this week. The Orange needed a 35-footer at the buzzer from Tyler Ennis to get past Pittsburgh, and then had some questionable calls down the stretch to come back in the closing seconds against North Carolina State. The Orange are playing with fire – although some optimistic folk would say it’s a team of destiny.

Feb. 19 vs. Boston College: This is the easiest game left on the schedule for Syracuse. The Eagles have defeated just one Division-I team since November, and that was Virginia Tech on two occasions. Syracuse shouldn’t have much difficulty with the Eagles, even though the Orange only won the first meeting by 10. Steve Donahue and Boston College have been a major disappointment this season.

Feb. 22 at Duke: This is where I think Syracuse’s unbeaten run comes to an end. The Orange needed overtime to beat the Blue Devils up at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1, and Duke has been playing very well over the last month or so. Had Jabari Parker not fouled out in the first meeting, the Blue Devils might have defeated them. Duke hit 15 3-pointers a couple of weeks ago, but will need to get inside the zone more consistently on Saturday.

Feb. 24 at Maryland: This could be a tricky game for Syracuse. The Orange have it sandwiched between road trips to Duke and Virginia, clearly the second and third-best teams in the conference. However, the Terrapins aren’t going to be an easy win. They nearly beat Virginia and Duke last week, and have lost just once at home in ACC play. This would also be a huge win for Mark Turgeon and the confidence of the program.

Wichita State (27-0)

What they’ve done recently: The Shockers didn’t run Evansville out of the gym on Sunday, but they shot 53 percent from the field and 95 percent from the free-throw line en route to a 16-point win. Their defense was lacking, allowing the Purple Aces to get too many open shots. Wichita State hasn’t been thoroughly dominating teams lately, letting teams hang around the first half before turning it up after halftime. Will that cost them?

Feb. 19 at Loyola (Chicago): This could be a possible trouble spot for Wichita State, although I don’t imagine the Shockers will fall. The Ramblers have been tough to beat at home, with eight of their nine wins this season coming in the Gentile Center. Milton Doyle has been one of the more prolific freshman scoring guards this season, but the Ramblers need to take care of the ball and make perimeter shots. Porter Moser’s team will look to slow down the game, and not let Wichita State get any transition opportunities.

Feb. 22 vs. Drake: The Shockers return home to face a Drake team that they beat by 17 on the road last month. In that one, Wichita State got too many easy looks in the paint, and also grabbed too many offensive rebounds. Drake has won two in a row, although both games were at home. The Bulldogs are just 1-6 on the road in conference play. However, the Bulldogs have the ability to get hot from 3-point range, which could keep it close.

Feb. 25 at Bradley: The final true road game of the season for Wichita State, Bradley will throw the kitchen table at the Shockers. The Braves lost the first meeting by 22 points, but they have actually gone 5-5 since that defeat. However, they enter this weekend on a three-game losing streak after falling at Southern Illinois on Tuesday. They force turnovers and defend the 3-point line fairly well, which could lead to some transition points.

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