Joseph brothers get rare chance to go head-to-head

The last time Maurice and Kris Joseph faced each other in a basketball game was 13 years ago. Maurice was 11 years old, Kris was eight, and the setting was a youth league game in Montreal.

Needless to say the stakes will be significantly higher when they face off on Friday night.

Older brother Maurice will lead the Vermont Catamounts, the America East champion and 16th seed in the NCAA basketball tournament’s West Region, into Buffalo to play his younger brother’s Syracuse Orange, the Big East regular-season champion and the No. 1 seed in the West.

A No. 16 seeded team has never beaten a No. 1 seeded team in NCAA tournament history. So although it would take an historic upset for Maurice to get the best of his little brother, the opportunity for the Josephs to face each other is still special.

“When I saw that we were playing Syracuse, it was pretty exciting,” Maurice, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who averages 14.1 points per game, told Yahoo! Sports on Monday.

“Getting the opportunity to play your brother in the NCAA tournament is a blessing and we are both looking forward to it.”

The brothers play different positions and have different strengths and weaknesses. Kris is a slasher who uses his athleticism to get to the basket. Maurice is a shooter who uses screens to get open looks.

“We are both really competitive,” Maurice said.

While both siblings are complimentary of each other’s game, Kris let it be known that Maurice should not try guarding him.

“He knows better. He will probably guard someone like Andy [Rautins],” Kris said. “I know his game so well that I can close my eyes and guard him… I wish we played [man-to-man] for a few possessions because I would guard him full-court.”

The younger Joseph is a key player for the Orange who could be under even more pressure if senior forward Arinze Onuaku doesn’t play on Friday. Onuaku injured his right quadriceps during the Big East tournament and is listed as day-to-day.

Kris was named the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 11.3 points per game and 5.4 rebounds. If Onuaku can’t play, Joseph would be expected to start.

The brothers keep in close contact and have already talked about their matchup and will continue to leading up to the game.

“We are going to talk a lot,” Kris said. “We will talk, text, tweet until we get to Buffalo.”

There’s more Canadian content in the game courtesy of Rautins, a Toronto native whose father Leo is the head coach of Canada’s national team and a former Syracuse star himself. The younger Rautins has overcome a knee injury to become the Orange’s second-leading scorer and top outside threat.

Outside of the on-court family reunion, the other underlying storyline for Friday’s meeting is what happened when the same two teams met in the first round of the 2005 tournament. The then 13-seeded Catamounts stunned the Orange 60-57 in overtime for the school’s first-ever tournament victory.

Maurice Joseph, who transferred to Vermont after two years at Michigan State, thinks his team is playing well enough to perhaps pull off another upset.

“We have been riding a wave of momentum going into the tournament so we feel comfortable going into the game. We are going to come out loose and ready to play with passion and see what happens.”

Neither Maurice nor Kris were part of those teams, but Kris spoke to former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara – now a graduate assistant coach with the Orange - about the game and plans to avenge the loss on his behalf.

“We spoke about it after practice. He still has a nasty taste in his mouth and I can understand why, but it is revenge time,” Kris said.

“I wasn’t around, but I could sense how angry Gerry was when he was telling me the story, so now it is payback time.”

The Josephs are still trying to figure out how to get as many family members from Montreal to Buffalo for the game. It remains to be seen who they will be cheering for, but Kris expects the Buffalo crowd to be squarely on Syracuse’s side. Many Orange supporters are expected to make the two-hour-plus drive to Buffalo.

“It is going to be orange out there. It is going to be to our advantage. We are used to playing in front of a large crowd and I think it will feel like a home game with all the orange we are going to see.”

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Updated Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010