Last updated: January 10. 2014 11:45PM - 1731 Views
JOHN KEKIS AP Sports Writer

Syracuse's Tyler Ennis (11) goes for a steal against Virginia Tech's Devin Wilson during the second half Tuesday in Blacksburg, Va. Syracuse won 72-52.
Syracuse's Tyler Ennis (11) goes for a steal against Virginia Tech's Devin Wilson during the second half Tuesday in Blacksburg, Va. Syracuse won 72-52.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After Syracuse lost to Michigan in the Final Four last spring, Jim Boeheim was asked if he planned to return for the Orange’s first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Boeheim was dumbfounded.

“The only reason that I would not coach next year is because I didn’t feel I could do a good job or wanted to do it, and I have no feeling at all now that that will be the case,” he said after his first loss in four national semifinal appearances. “You know, I like where we are.”

What’s not to like?

Syracuse is ranked No. 2 and is 15-0 for the third time in four years.

“My sophomore year we went undefeated for a while,” senior C.J. Fair said of 2011-12, when the Orange started 20-0 and were ranked No. 1 for 11 straight weeks. “This year, we got off to a good start, played some quality teams. I think we’re well-respected.”

Most assuredly, the Orange, with a new backcourt in freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and shooting guard Trevor Cooney, have surprised their wily Hall of Fame coach. Despite a difficult nonconference schedule that included wins over Baylor, Minnesota, California, Indiana and former Big East rivals St. John’s and Villanova, the Orange are one of only five remaining undefeated teams in Division I.

“These guys have played well,” Boeheim said. “They’ve done everything we could possibly have asked. They’ve played some really good teams and played some really good basketball.”

Boeheim is 69 and has spent nearly four decades on the bench.

“If we had won the championship last year, it could have been a consideration for him,” Fair said. “You never know where his mind is at as far as retiring. If we win a national championship, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Syracuse has won its first two games in the ACC, squeaking past Miami 49-44 at home and easily handling Virginia Tech on the road. The Orange will be looking to make it three in a row Saturday when they host erratic North Carolina (10-4, 0-2), which this week dropped out of the Top 25 for the second time this season.

The Tar Heels were 12th in the preseason poll and have beaten highly ranked Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville but lost to five unranked opponents. They dropped out of the rankings in the fourth regular-season voting following losses to Belmont and UAB, returned after a one-week absence with a win over then-No. 1 Michigan State, then dropped out from No. 19 after opening ACC play with a loss at Wake Forest.

Syracuse ranks fifth in turnover margin (6.4), ninth in steals per game (9.7) and 13th in scoring defense (59.8 ppg.). In its 72-52 win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday night, the Hokies got a firsthand taste of Boeheim’s defense. They entered the game leading the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage (42.5 percent) but shot 29.2 percent.

“It’s tough to match their length and athleticism,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. “I thought they did a much better job than we did on getting out on the shooters. We left the high post open a lot and made our big guys try and make plays. They got out on our shooters, leaving the high post open and we really weren’t able to make those plays.”

More than 31,000 fans are expected for the game, which would make it the largest crowd of the season — until Duke visits in three weeks.

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