|No. 15 Syracuse renews rivalry with UConn|
NEW YORK -- Syracuse and Connecticut, former members of the Big East Conference, will renew their rivalry when they meet for the 95th time in the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic, benefiting the Wounded Warrior Foundation, at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
It will mark the 37th consecutive season that No. 15 Syracuse will play at Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse (2-0) and UConn (2-0) last played as Big East opponents in 2013. Since the conference broke up, Syracuse went to the ACC and UConn headed to the American Athletic Conference.
No. 13 Oregon and Iowa play the other game on Thursday, with the winners advancing to Friday's final.
Connecticut is Syracuse's fifth-most familiar opponent. The Orange have a 56-38 advantage in the series. The Orange defeated the Huskies 72-63 a year ago at the Garden, when UConn made just 20 of 47 shots from the field.
Syracuse returns most of its team from last season, which reached the Elite Eight. Junior guard Tyus Battle, who started all 37 games and led the team in scoring a season ago (19.2 ppg.), is on the watch list for the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden and NABC Player of the Year awards.
Battle led all Division I players in minutes played average in 2018-19, logging 39.0 per outing. He went through the pre-NBA Draft process last year, but ultimately withdrew his name to return to Syracuse for his third season. He's averaging 15.5 points in the Orange's two games this season.
"I think he (Battle) had a tremendous offseason," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told USA Today. "He worked extremely hard. He's shooting the ball better. Overall, he's a better player. He had a really good year last year, made a lot of big shots in a lot of games. I think his shooting percentages will get better because he'll have other guys to take some of the burden off."
Frank Howard, Syracuse's senior point guard, has been out with an ankle injury since September and is questionable for Thursday.
Paschal Chukwu (7-foot-2), Oshae Brissett (6-8) and Elijah Hughes (6-6), hold down the Orange's vaunted 2-3 zone.
"Playing against their zone is probably 30 to 35 percent of what the game is," first-year Huskies coach Danny Hurley told the Hartford Courant. "Sometimes, you get so stuck on, 'How are we going to score against the zone?' But there are other things we need to do well so that it doesn't come down to just that one aspect."
UConn enters the contest shooting 51.2 percent in its first two games and features four double-figure scorers, led by senior Jalen Adams (18.0) and grad student Tarin Smith (17.0), who are both shooting .636 overall. Redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert (13.5) and Josh Carlton (13.0) also are in double figures, while junior Christian Vital is the leading rebounder (9.0) and Gilbert is tops in assists (4.0).
Thursday's game will be the 117th contest for UConn at the Garden. The Huskies are 62-54 (.534) in games played there. They have won 10 championships at the arena.