Friday, February 19, 2010

25-2, a Hoya Sweep, and Making the Free Throws

A season sweep of the Hoyas. That’s always one of those tasks that makes for a great season. Syracuse is now 12-2, alone atop the Big East (Villanova is ½ game back at 11-2). The Orange are 25-2 overall. Syracuse has matched that mark twice before: in 1978-1979 and in 1979-1980, those two Bouie N’ Louie squads started out 25-2, before both finishing 26-4.

The Syracuse record for wins in a season is 31, set by the Douglas-Coleman-Seikaly team of 1986-1987, that went 31-7. Two other Syracuse teams won 30. The 1988-1989 squad went 30-8, while the 2002-2003 National Championship team went 30-5.

Syracuse has four regular season games left, and then at least two postseason games. They could be 28-3 or 29-2 entering the Big East Tournament, which sets them well for breaking the school record. They could falter down the stretch in the regular season, and each win will be critical for breaking this record. There won’t be an easy game in the Big East Tournament (especially since they’ll have a first round bye).

These Orangemen love to squander big leads. Yet, they show they can gel and hold on for the win. I would hope they would learn to play a solid forty minutes before the NCAA starts. At least on the bright side, they are learning to play close games.

Syracuse shot an amazing 27-30 last night, or 90% for the game. That is one reason this year's team is winning these tight contests. They do have two of the worst free throw shooters in school history on the squad with Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. Jackson did go 4-4 last night to bring his season average over 50%, up to 51.3%. Onuaku is at 43.1%, which is well above his school record 29.8% set last year. Onuaku’s attempts are way down this year, with only 58 through 27 games, so it is not negatively impacting the Orange as much as it could.

But the team statistics can be misleading. The Orangemen are actually a decent free throw shooting bunch. Other than Jackson and Onuaku, Brandon Triche is the only other weak shooter, at 65.2%. Andy Rautins (79.4%) and Wes Johnson (78%) are very good free throw shooters, and Kris Joseph (72.7%) and Scoop Jardine (75%) are solid.

In conference play, the top shooters are even better. Rautins is an outstanding 86.5% in conference play, 45 out of 52. Wes Johnson is hitting at 82.2% (51 of 62). Joseph is 53 of 69, or 76.8%.

Andy Rautins joined the 1,000 point club last night with his last free throw of the night, giving him an even 1,000. He also surpassed Preston Shumpert and is now has the 2nd most 3 points shots made in Syracuse history with 251 (Gerry McNamara's record is safe). Despite the defenses designed to stop him, Rautins is hitting at a respectable 39.6% clip from three point range (67 of 169).

Wes Johnson leads the team in three point percentage at 41.3% (36 of 87). While he does get a few more open looks at the basket than Rautins, it is nice to have Johnson providing that extra perimeter shooting. It also helps open up things inside for himself and the big guys up front.
Syracuse does not go 10 players deep, but they do have a deep team in terms of talent. As I mentioned the other day, seven different players have scored 20+ points in a game this year. The team’s second leading scorer is Kris Joseph, who comes off the bench. The team’s leader in assists (tied with Rautins) is Scoop Jardine, who comes off the bench.

Syracuse has seven players with 200+ points. That feat has been accomplished only twice before in team history. The 2006-2007 squad had Terrence Roberts, Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins, Josh Wright, Darryl Watkins, Demetris Nichols and Paul Harris accomplish the feat. The other squad was the 1995-1996 Final Four team with John Wallace, Jason Cipolla, Todd Burgan, Otis Hill, Lazarus Sims and J.B. Reafsnyder.

The team also has six players averaging 8+ points per game. Only five other Syracuse teams have done that. The 1954-1955 team was led by Vinnie Cohen, and also had Gary Clark, Jim Brown (yes, that Jim Brown), Jim Snyder, Manny Breland and Ron Gillespie. The 1976-1977 team had Roosevelt Bouie, Louis Orr, Dale Shackleford, Larry Kelley, Marty Byrnes and Jimmy Williams. The 1981-1982 team had Erich Santifer, Tony Bruin, Leo Rautins, Gene Waldron, Ron Payton and Sean Kerins. The 1983-1984 team had Wendell Alexis, Gene Waldron, Sean Kerins, Andre Hawkins, Pearl Washington and Rafael Addison. And last season’s squad had Jonny Flynn, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins and Paul Harris accomplish the feat.

This year’s team did have seven players with 8+ points a game, entering last night, but Scoop Jardine was shutout dropping his average just below 8. It is quite possible this balanced squad will have 7 players meet that mark by season’s end.

The team also has three guards all on pace for 100 assists. That is not unheard of; in fact Flynn, Devendorf and Rautins did it last year. But it is rare. In 1989-1990 Billy Owens, Michael Edwards and Stephen Thompson accomplished the feat. And in the preceding season 1988-1989, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens did it. The 1982-1983 squad had Gene Waldron, Leo Rautins and Erich Santifer each with 100+. And the first Syracuse squad to accomplish the feat was the 1974-1975 Final Four team with Jimmy Lee, Rudy Hackett and Jimmy Williams all getting 100+.

The Orangmen are 25-2, and an amazing 6-0 versus Top 20 teams this year, 5-0 versus the Top 10. They are 7-0 on the road, 10-0 in games not played at home. They currently have the #2 RPI rating in the country, and the #10 toughest Strength of Schedule (SOS) in the country.

Well done Syracuse. Well done.

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