New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The 23rd-ranked Syracuse Orange and California Golden Bears will put their unblemished records on the line on Thursday evening, as they face one another in the semifinals of the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden.
The winner of this game will take on either Texas or Iowa for the event championship on Friday.
Jim Boeheim's Orange are taking a step up in competition, after blowing out both Kennesaw State (89-42) and Hampton (65-47) at the Carrier Dome to open the 20-14-15 campaign. The win over Hampton was the 950th career victory for Boeheim, who sits second on the all-time wins list behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
Cuonzo Martin's first season at the helm of California has gotten off to a strong start. The Golden Bears have been even more impressive than Syracuse in their two games to begin the campaign, with routs of Alcorn State (91-57) and Kennesaw State (93-59).
This marks the fourth all-time meeting between these two teams. The Orange have won all three previous matchups, including a 92-81 victory in last year's Maui Invitational.
There is a feeling that Syracuse will be a much better team as the season wears on and that is a scary thought, considering how well the team has played thus far. With several new faces on the roster and a true freshman once again at the point, the Orange will only get better with time. Through two games, Syracuse is netting a healthy 77.0 ppg, while limiting foes to a meager 44.5 ppg and boasting a +18.0 rebounding margin. Veteran center Rakeem Christmas has been a nightmare in the low post, leading the Orange in both scoring (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (12.5 rpg). Freshman forward Chris McCullough (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and sophomore forward B.J. Johnson (13.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) add to the strong play up front. Junior guard Trevor Cooney (10.0 ppg) provides perimeter scoring, while freshman guard Kaleb Joseph (4.5 ppg, 6.0 apg) gets acclimated at the point.
Christmas was unstoppable against Hampton, abusing the Pirates down low to the tune of 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, the most boards by a Syracuse player in a game since 2010. McCullough posted a double-digit scoring average as well, finishing with 13 points, but there was little scoring elsewhere, as Syracuse shot just .415 from the floor, including a 5-of-18 effort from behind the arc (.278).
The offensive numbers are staggering for California in the early going, as the Golden Bears are netting 92.0 ppg through two outings, shooting .558 from the floor and a scorching .472 from 3-point range (17-of-36). The team's one glaring weakness thus far has been at the free-throw line, where Cal has converted just 59 percent of the time (23-of-39). Junior guard Tyrone Wallace has gotten off to a fast start, averaging 20.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Jordan Mathews isn't far behind in the scoring column at 17.0 ppg, followed by Jabari Bird (13.5 ppg) and Dwight Tarwater (10.5 ppg).
In the 34-point romp over Kennesaw State, Cal shot a sizzling .609 from the floor and held a 42-27 edge in rebounding. Wallace was dominant, posting 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Mathews added 16 points and seven boards to the cause, Bird finished with 15 points and seven rebounds of his own, while Tarwater chipped in with 10 points off the bench.