Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Last Blown Lead of the Year, Thankfully

Another Syracuse basketball season has come to a close. Though this one did not turn out as well as fans had expected, it was definitely a season with a lot of stories. In the next few days I will promise to recap the season milestones and other accomplishments. Today, however, I would like to vent about the Syracuse / UMass game last evening.

Syracuse pulled out to a big lead in the first half, despite being scoreless for the first 3 ½ minutes of the game. With the 17 point half time lead, I had a strong feeling the Orange were not going to hold that lead, and sure enough they did not. This despite the fact they extended the lead out to 22 points in the second half.

The announcers kept harping on how the fatigue was affecting Syracuse. And it is true the Orange were tired. I could see Arinze Onuaku struggling up and down the court, laboring to get off the floor after each time he fell. Donte’ Greene was tired, Paul Harris was leaning over, most of the Orange were tired. As a result, they stopped playing defense, and the Minutemen were able to easily penetrate in interior for easy baskets or kick it out for uncontested three point shots. If you were casually paying attention, as Sean McDonough and Fran Fraschilla must have been, it would have seemed obvious to you that Syracuse was fatigued because they went only 7 players deep while UMass went 10 deep.

I say hogwash to that. And I’ll give you three reasons.

First, Syracuse has been playing with 7 players since December. The seven players on the court are used to this amount of minutes in a game. In fact, for many of those games Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson barely played; the five starters often played an average of 37+ minutes between them.

Second, these are young guys, ages 18 to 21, with bodies that should recuperate fairly quickly. They have not played a basketball game since last Thursday, five days ago. They played at home then, and they played at home now, so they had no travel. UMass played on Friday night and had to travel to Syracuse, so they had one less day of travel plus travel.

It’s this third reason that really irks me. The five Syracuse starters played 162 of the 200 minutes of the game. The five UMass starters played 173 of the 200 minutes of the game. Two Syracuse reserves played 10+ minutes. Only one UMass reserve played more than 5 minutes. Which team went deeper into their lineup? Both teams played the same frenetic pace.

Think about that. The Orange had more rest than their opposition. Yes, the game was fast pace, a pace that UMass is more accustomed to playing than Syracuse. But UMass is also used to playing 8-10 guys a game. Syracuse plays only 7. In the second half, despite playing the entire game, Jonny Flynn was still running the court with relative ease. Where were his teammates? If Flynn’s not tired, why are his teammates?

I have to question the conditioning efforts the Syracuse players put into their season, with the exception of Flynn. I always believed it was an advantage for Syracuse to play a shorter bench in the regular season because come the post season, all teams shorten their benches. Syracuse players were used to the minutes, the opposition is not. Edge for Syracuse. Except not this year.

I do have to imagine there is some difficulty in maintaining a high level of game fitness when you have less than a full squad. Inter squad scrimmages would be tough to have, especially at a full court frenetic pace. However, I do not believe that effect would be significant.

Of course it was not all about being tired. Syracuse made a lot of poor decisions on the court down the stretch. Ill-advised passes, taking difficult shots too early in the possession, failing to hustle on defense. I’m sure part of the ‘fatigue’ was the fact that the Orange had a big lead, and watched it dwindle away. They were shocked that they were losing another large lead, and I’m sure that deflated their energy.

The Orange have a great group of talented young players, guys who are fun to watch (most of the time). I hope they learned a lot from this season for next year, and 2008-2009 could be a great one for the Orange. Especially with the incoming freshman and the return of Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins.

I just hope that the inability to hold leads is not something these guys have grown accustomed too. I think Devo won’t put up with it. You could see that Kristof Onganaet was not happy about the efforts, yet he’s not really in the leadership position.

Anyhow, enough complaints from here. There were plenty of good moments in 2007-2008, and I’ll choose to remember those from here on out. I just had to clear my head of the negative energy from last night’s loss.


Anonymous said...

You surely knocked the head smooth off the nail with your analysis of the '07-'08 Orange season. All true SU fans must remember that a young and untested team will play up or down to its opponent. Also, the way Donte' Green's season ended showed everybody in the nation that his talents are still very raw. If you browse over our potential roster for next season, Boeheim can expect 20+ point leads to grow in the 2nd half instead of evaporating. Let's make a comparison to our proud National Championship team.

R Jackson-McNeil
If you compare this and remember the '03 team gelled late in that season, Boeheim has the squad to provide serious matchup problems for any team in the country. The '88-'91 and '04 teams left room to wonder, lets hope next year we can relive the magic.
Deep South Orange Fan

Anonymous said...

Huge Orange fan from north of the border, grew up in Kingston, Ontario back in the days of Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens, etc...

Love the current squad, watched Paul Harris and Johnny Flynn ball in high school.

Just found your blog, will follow along next year.

God bless,