Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ending the Streak (Thankfully)

There are no ‘easy’ games in the Big East. A pretty common statement you hear in different media circles, and fairly accurate. Currently there are seven Big East teams ranked in the top 17 of the country. Syracuse had a four game losing streak, and I must admit I was getting quite uncomfortable as a fan, wondering if the Orange were falling apart. They were not playing like the same team they were up through early January.

They put me fears at ease with an excellent defensive effort at #6 UConn last night, winning 66-58. This is Syracuse’ first win at Connecticut in this millennium. A lousy offensive performance by the Orange, but a stellar defensive effort, fairly good ball control, and outstanding rebounding led the way.

Rick Jackson had another day at the office with his 15th double-double of the year. His pace has slowed down a little from December, but he’s going to be close to Derrick Coleman’s season rebounding record by the end of the year. Coleman had 422 rebounds, and Jackson is on pace for 403 (assuming 35 games).

Jackson would have had more rebounds last night but Baye Keita fouled that up for him. Keita had an outstanding night with 11 rebounds, 6 steals and 2 blocks. Those are clear signs of an active big man in the center of the defense. He did foul out of the game, but they are fouls of being overly aggressive, not overly passive, and that is more comfortable to live with.

I do not know what to make of the Syracuse team for the year. They are an outstanding defensive team (most the time), and when they are playing the defense well, they get a lot of transition points. The Orange run an outstanding transition game, which is good because the rest of their offense is just plain awful. They have moments where they look good, but they just never seem to find an offensive rhythm.

The three point shooting is just mediocre at best, though Brandon Triche can get hot. It’s not like they have difficult looks at the basket; Syracuse must have a couple of air balls each game from three point range (or so it seems). Jim Boeheim should outlaw any attempts at the alley-oop pass, as it seems to fail with these guys more often than succeed.

Fortunately Jackson is hustling every game and getting extra shots for the Orange when they miss the hoop.

The naysayers and the Boeheim haters are of course coming out of the woodwork saying the he once again inflated his won/loss record with an easy preconference schedule, and now that the Orange are facing real competition, they are losing. Of course, this isn’t true this year, nor is it true most years.

Syracuse was ranked #1 in the RPI on January 15th, when they were 18-0 going into the Pitt game. They are 4-2 this season against top 25 teams, and 2-2 versus teams ranked #7 or higher. They have 11 “quality wins” on the season (Northern Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina State, Michigan State, Drexel, Providence, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Cincinnati, and UConn). And they have no “bad” losses.
They lost four games in a row, and two of those were against very good teams. It was an awful stretch of basketball the past three games. The Orange are going to lose again down the stretch. They are not good enough offensively to win every game every night, and I think after 23 games, we can recognize the hand that Syracuse was dealt. Offensively, they are not going to improve much more this year.

Defensively they can give any team in the country fits, and that will keep them in any game they play. In the NCAA tournament it will give them an advantage against those teams less familiar with the zone that the Big East competition. Running six straight in the NCAA would be tough for a team without a real offense. But they can definitely do some damage in the tournament, and you just need to win one game at a time.

You never know.

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