Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweet Sixteen!!

The Orange continue to play great basketball, with an easy win over Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA, and frankly a win over Arizona State that was never in doubt.

As a side note, both those wins were the first wins for Syracuse over those programs. The Orange had never played Stephen F. Austin before, and were 0-1 versus Arizona State.

Syracuse is on an eleven game streak where they have been playing outstanding basketball. They have been building large leads on the teams they should beat, and hanging in there and winning the close games against the teams that are a tough match.

This year’s team has shown tremendous resolve in their ability to hang in during the close games. Even when they make mistakes down the stretch they seem not to be phased by it; if anything they seem to step it up a notch and compensate for the errors.

I can’t say enough about the improved play of Jonny Flynn. To watch him grow from being a very good player to a great point guard during this season has been a delight. It is hard to believe this is the same guy I was criticizing early in the year for taking all the shots (which I still agree with), for he seems to be making all the right decisions now.

Eric Devendorf is bringing his offensive game to each and every game now, and Andy Rautins seems to be everywhere on the court, and when the clutch shots are needed, he is definitely nailing them. Paul Harris has not been an offensive threat, but when the three guards are lighting it up, Syracuse does not need that from Harris. What they do need is every single rebound he can get, and he has been getting them.

The big guys have been playing outstanding as a group. Arinze Onuaku is playing solid, and with the improved consistent play of Rick Jackson and Kris Onganaet, coach Jim Boeheim can keep Onuaku off the court during crunch time, so that we do not have to worry about his free throw shooting woes. Onganaet has been a steady factor on the boards and getting the loose balls, and on some cases, has been showing some offensive flair. Possibly the biggest impact has been the improved play of Rick Jackson as an offensive player. He has turned into a reliable 10 point guy, which is all Syracuse needs from him now. Syracuse does not need a monster game from the big three to win; they just need the trio to hold their own. The next two games will test the Orange on that.

Syracuse is 2-1 all-time versus Oklahoma. Of course, Oklahoma is all about All-American Blake Griffin. I do not think Syracuse has to stop Griffin in order to beat the Sooners. But they do need to make Griffin work hard, on his way to his 25-30 points and 15-20 rebounds. The bigger issue will be how the rest of the Sooners respond. If Oklahoma cannot figure out the zone defense, and Griffin has to take 25-30 shots, things could look very rosey for the Orange.

Syracuse will continue to need to have great efforts from Flynn, Rautins, and Devo. If Rautins and Devo are making their fair share of threes, and Flynn is handling the ball well, I feel very confident. The other X factor will be the foul situation for Syracuse up front. The Orange do not have a lot of depth of big men, so they’ll need Onganaet, Onuaku, and Jackson to play hard, but also to be available for the whole game.

Switching gears, the Big East has just been outstanding in this post season. A record five teams in the Sweet Sixteen, which was made slightly easier by giving three of the teams the #1 seeds and thus the easiest path there. With the exception of Pitt, who has struggled in both games, the Big East teams have won rather easily, with UConn at the head of the class. It is quite possible the Big East will have four teams in the elite eight (possibly five!).

I do have to say it is nice for the Orange to be back in the tourney. Go Orange!!

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