Playing at Syracuse is never easy, but the timing for Tuesday night's 7 p.m. tipoff in the Carrier Dome hardly could be worse for St. John's. Not only is it senior night for Orange starters Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins, but coach Jim Boeheim's team was voted No. 1 in the AP poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll on the heels of their magnificent 95-77 romp over No. 9 Villanova Saturday night.

The NCAA's elite have played musical chairs with the top spot coming down the stretch as previous No. 1 Kansas lost to Oklahoma State and No. 2 Kentucky, which held the top position earlier, also lost to Tennessee. But all along, many expert commentators, notably including ESPN's Bob Knight, have said Syracuse (27-2, 14-2 Big East) has all the necessary ingredients to become NCAA champion. The Orange's 27 regular-season wins is a school record, and they are 7-0 against nationally-ranked teams.

"Man, it's huge, knowing it's A.O. and Andy's senior year," said junior transfer Wesley Johnson, who might well be making his final Carrier Dome appearance before declaring for the NBA draft. "This is their last game here and being No. 1, I think everybody had a smile on their face going to class today. Everybody said, 'Congratulations, you guys deserve it.' It's a great feeling. I've never been No. 1 in the country. It speaks volumes for all the work we put in this year."

The Orangemen, who are ranked No. 1 for the first time ever in the month of March, looked like a loose, happy group with a ton of energy as they went through their practice paces this afternoon to prepare for St. John's (15-13, 5-11). Echoing his comments after recording his 826th career win in the Villanova rout, Boeheim said, "Everybody knows in college basketball, the only No. 1 that matters is the one at the end of the year. We just want to play well and finish out the year."

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At the same time, Boeheim didn't deny how meaningful the recognition is to a team that was chosen sixth in the Big East preseason coaches' poll and that was unranked by AP the first week of the season and only 25th in the ESPN/USA Today rankings. "We're happy to be there," Boeheim said. "These guys have worked hard to get there. It's an honor. It's great to be voted the No. 1 team in the country. It's a nice thing for these guys. They've earned it."

After St. John's, the Orangemen visit Louisville on Saturday in their last game before the Big East tournament. That's a chance for Syracuse to avenge one of its two losses [the other was to Pitt]. Boeheim has reached the NCAA title game three times, winning it in 2003, and this would be his first time to enter the national tourney as the No. 1 overall seed if the Orange keep winning until Selection Sunday.