Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thanks for the Season!

My thanks to the Orange for giving us a great season of enjoyment. 5-0 in overtime victories this season, including one very memorable one for the ages! A great run in the Big East Tournament and a return to the NCAA Tournament where they had two strong wins before inevitably losing to a strong Oklahoma team with a great Blake Griffin.

It was a pleasure watching Jonny Flynn develop from a great player to a great point guard over the course of the season, and for him wearing his heart on his sleeve through these past few weeks. The team started out well, and continued to improve as a unit throughout the year, despite a few occasionally distractions and injuries.

But starting with the overtime win against Georgetown, until Friday's loss to Oklahoma, the Orange played some outstanding basketball, showed a never give up attitude, and provided the fans with a lot of great memories.

2009-2010 should be quite a year. I have no idea which of the current players will be returning, but it should be a very talented team no matter what combination is on the court.

I have put together my summary of the season on, so I will not repeat it here. Within the week, I promise to have my annual season ending statistics commentary.

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!!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thanks for the Tournament

The Orange came up short tonight in the win column in their attempt to win their sixth Big East tournament title. But they did not come up short in their effort in this tournament. As a fan, I of course wanted them to win this game, but they played hard and played well tonight, inevitably losing to the better team on this night 76-66. Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals on a well earned Big East Championship.

The Orange have put together some great teamwork over the past few weeks, and they are peaking at just the right time of the season. I look forward to what they can accomplish in the NCAA tournament this upcoming week. They should be a #4 seed somewhere. We’ll see what the committee thinks.

Congratulations to Jonny Flynn for a well earned Big East MVP, and for putting his name on the list of great Syracuse guard performances at Madison Square Garden along with the likes of Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, and Gerry McNamara. Eric Devendorf should also get some note as he set the Big East record with 84 point in the tournament.

Again, I am proud of all the Orange for the past four days. Thank you very much. I cannot wait to see you all play next week.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Wow! What a game. If you could not stay up to 1:40 am EDT last evening, you missed one of the greatest games in basketball history. Six overtimes.

The final score was 127-117 Syracuse over Connecticut. But the Orange never led in any of the previous five overtime periods. Syracuse showed early in the season in the Florida and Kansas games that they would not fold under pressure, and they have kept that true to form this entire season. What a welcome change from the past few years.

I have been harsh on Jonny Flynn's playmaking this season, and I believe rightfully so. But in the last few games, I have seen Flynn develop from being a great player to being a great point guard. He is now dishing the ball off to his teammates, allowing them to take the better shots, and keeping everyone involved. He is elevating his play, and that is bringing the team with him.

So many highlights from last night. Arinze Onuaku... you know all Orange fans were burying their faces in their hands when he went to the line with 30 seconds to go in regulation and he had to make two. And the big guy came through with two free throws.

Devendorf's last second shot for the win... nothing but net. I think the officials made the correct call in taking away the basket due to time expiring... but it could not have possibly been any closer. I do have an objection with the officials not calling charging on Thabeet for plowing over Jonny Flynn on the pick on the inbounds (though I can understand them not wanting to make that call at the end of the game).

Andy Rautins hitting a clutch 3 to tie the game with 12 seconds to go in the 3rd overtime period. It must be something in the Rautin gene pool that allows heroics in third period overtimes (reference: Leo's tip in winning basket in the 1981 Villanova triple overtime win). And Andy's three point shot to start the 6th overtime period basically ended the game.

Flynn's 34 points and 11 assists are strong numbers, but 67 minutes and 16-16 from the free throw line are the numbers that really jump out.

Paul Harris... what an up and down night for Paul. 56 minutes, 29 points, 13-14 from the free throw line. Here's the huge stat: 22 rebounds. Some of those 22 rebounds were his own missed shots (of which he had many at point blank in overtime), but still a great effort from Harris.

For a few minutes of overtime, Syracuse had to play against UConn and Thabeet without any center or power forward on the team. Onuaku, Onganaet and Jackson had all fouled out. I was concerned that was the end for the Orange, but they still hung in there.

You've got to wonder what was going through Justin Thomas's mind when Devendorf fouled out and Thomas, a walk-on, had to go onto the court. He played 18 minutes all season, plus three more against Seton Hall Wednesday night. He ended up playing 7 minutes, every one of them crucial, against the #4 team in the country, last night. I'm guessing Jake Presutti was praying that neither Rautins or Harris would pick up their next foul, their fifth, or he would have been on the court too.

Who knows what the Orange will be able to do tonight. They are young men, but the emotional drain has got to be significant. The big men actually should not be too physically tired. Jackson played only 29 minutes, Onganaet 28 minutes, and Onuaku 28 minutes. But the guards will definitely be the ones to watch.

I think the win last night easily moves the Orange into a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament, regardless of how they do this evening. We'll see.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thoughts on Wrapping up the Regular Season

I am very happy with how the Orange finished out their regular season. They held tough with a good Villanova team, and then they won the final four games of the regular season to finish 23-8. The last four games were really promising. They beat St. Johns, Rutgers and Cincinnati, which in itself would not impress anyone. However, it is the way they beat those teams that was so rewarding.

The Orange played solid defense in those three games, and they ended up playing hard until the end of each of the games, putting all the games in the blow out category. That is what good teams are supposed to do; bury the teams weaker than them, instead of letting them hang around.

The win against Marquette, a top twenty team, on the road, to end the season was an especially nice touch. It is very nice being in that comfortable position knowing that the Orange are virtually guaranteed an NCAA berth, and now they are just playing for the seeding position. A welcome change from the past two seasons.
Syracuse had only one ‘bad’ loss all year and that was to Cleveland State. That game is not going to hurt them as it is probably considered more of a fluke with the half court shot beating them. The Georgetown loss does not look good now, but they were a top 10 team at the time. Syracuse beat every other team they should beat this season. I had written in the preseason if they went 22-9 with their schedule I would find that very impressive, and then ended 23-8. So no complaints here.

Jonny Flynn made the Big East Second Team, and I have no problem with that position. The Big East got smart and went back to a reasonable First Team, Second Team and Third Team selection, instead of the incredibly bloated ten man teams the past three years. Flynn is the best basketball player at Syracuse, and definitely one of the best guards in the league. He is not a great point guard, as I have written a few times this season, but he is absolutely a great player.

The happiest moment for me in the Marquette game was the three point shot by Rautins to seal the win in overtime. Why? That play showed me a maturing process for Jonny Flynn as a point guard. Flynn drove the lane and drew the defenders. 99% of the time this season, Flynn was going to force that shot. Instead he did the correct move and he dished the ball out to Rautins who was wide open because his defender had slipped down to cover Flynn. If Flynn is going to start playing like a point guard and making those smart decisions, then the Orange become a far tougher team to beat.

As good as Flynn and Eric Devendorf are, the fate of Syracuse falls into the hands of Andy Rautins and Paul Harris. Rautins is probably the most ‘valuable’ player on the team this season. He shot 40% from three point range in the games Syracuse won and 30% in the eight they lost. When Syracuse gets Rautins involved in the offense, it opens up the rest of the court, making it easier for Flynn, Devendorf, and Harris all to get to the basket. And Rautins has shown he is very adept at passing that ball to the cutting player or to the open player down in the post. As offense flows through Rautins, the team plays more ‘team ball’, and less one-on-one.

Harris’ rebounding is the other crucial factor for the Orange. When Harris shows up to play and works to get his rebounds, the Orange are a tough team to beat. They are 9-2 when Harris had double digit rebounds, 14-6 when he does not. Rebounding is mostly a motivational issue, and I do not know why Harris has a tough time staying motivated for rebounding on a regular basis. But I do know that when he does, the opposition gets limited shot opportunities and the Orange play well.

Syracuse’s free throw shooting as a team is actually very comforting. Throw out Arinze Onuaku’s numbers, and Syracuse shoots 70% as a team. Flynn shoots 79% from the charity strip, Devendorf 81% and Harris 73%. Rautins is only 68%, but he has had limited free throw opportunities this season.

Onuaku is of course a well documented poor free throw shooter. He shot 30% from the line for the regular season, and an astonishing 17% (10-60) in Big East play.
Rautins is on the flip side for conference play. Rautins hit 100% of his free throws in Big East play. But despite playing 469 minutes in conference play, Rautins only took five free throw attempts during that time. That’s one free throw every 93.8 minutes of play. That is probably reflective on the fact that he took only 28 shots inside the three point arc in conference play, and the Big East lets the players play tough inside. But still, an amazing number to me.

I do not know how far the Orange can go this post season. I think winning the Big East Tournament would be far tougher than making the Final Four. To win the Big East Tournament, Syracuse would likely have to beat along the way Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. There are very few teams that good in the country, and Syracuse would be very unlikely to face three teams of that caliber in the NCAA tournament.

I don’t think the Orange have what it takes to win the NCAA tournament. Their inside game is not strong enough to face some of the other top teams. However, the Orange have shown a strong ability to win the close games, and they did beat Kansas and Memphis in hostile environments. I know if I were another team, I would not want to draw Syracuse as an opponent in the tournament. Syracuse is a very experienced team with their top 7 players consisting of one senior, 3 fourth year juniors, another junior, and two sophomores. In today’s college basketball, that is a lot of experience.