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Pitoniak: Plenty to play for in Dome finale


                Saturday afternoon's game against Louisville in the Carrier Dome will have little bearing on Syracuse's post-season plans. Even with a loss to the Cardinals and a loss in their first game of next week's Big East Conference tournament, it would appear the Orange men already have clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

                Louisville, on the other hand, could greatly benefit from an upset victory on the road against the No. 2 team in the land. It definitely would bolster its resume and elevate its tournament seeding a few slots.

                Throw in the fact SU won in Louisville two weeks ago and it would seem that the Cardinals hold a motivational advantage.

                That said, I'd be shocked if the Orange men don't come out equally motivated Saturday.

                In their minds, particularly the minds of seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, there is plenty to play for in this game.

                For starters, there will be more than 33,000 vociferous, orange-clad fans on hand to bid Joseph and Jardine adieu as they play their final home game.

                And the players know how much it irks Coach Jim Boeheim to have to answer questions about Rick Pitino's dominance of him in recent years. (The former Boeheim assistant has won seven of the past eight matchups against his former boss.) A season sweep of Pitino's 19th-ranked Cardinals would put that debate to rest for awhile.

                There also are plenty of milestones at stake.

    A victory would enable Syracuse to complete its Dome schedule at 19-0, giving the Cuse the most home wins in a single season and marking the first time since 2003 the Orange men have been undefeated at home. (That clearly could be a good omen, considering SU parlayed its last umblemished home slate into a national championship.)
                
                 A win also would enable SU to finish 17-1 in league play and establish a new standard for most conference wins in a single season.
                
                 It would ensure the top seed in the East Region of the NCAAs, meaning that SU's road to the Final Four in New Orleans would go through Pittsburgh and Boston - two cities within easy traveling distance of Syracuse.
                
                 Finally, it would put Syracuse within striking distances of the school record for most wins in a season. The 1986-87 NCAA finalists finished with a 31-7 mark, while the national title team in '03 and the Sweet 16 club from two years ago both went 30-5.
                
                Given all that, I think SU will take the court Saturday with the intensity of a team with plenty on the line.
                
                 ORANGE SLICES: The game has been declared an "orange-out," meaning fans are encouraged to wear the school's primary color to the game. It admittedly would be a little garish, but wouldn't it be kind of cool if Boeheim walked out wearing an orange sport coat? Hey, Pitino donned a white suit for Louisville's "white-out" when the Cardinals hosted SU a few weeks ago . . . Here's a stat that underscores the explosiveness of this year's SU squad: The Orange men have had runs of eight points or more in 26 of their 30 games, topped by a 26-0 spurt vs. South Florida . . . It was good to see Boeheim play freshman guard Michael Carter Williams more in Saturday night's victory vs. Connecticut. The SU coach had reverted to playing just six players extensively in last week's win vs. South Florida. He used seven guys 15 or more minutes Saturday. He's going to need to go seven or eight deep in the tournament.                                                                           
                Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak is the author of "Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story." Pitoniak's 15th book, "Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir" will be published this spring.
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