Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Season is Over

Syracuse earned their loss tonight to Marquette. Syracuse consistently made poor decisions all game, was sloppy with its ball handling and lacked the hustle of its opponent. It’s a shame to see the season end that way, a bad taste to have to sit in the fans and players mouths for the summer. The ‘unfinished business’ will remain that way.

I’ll give Marquette credit for its game plan. They executed their ball movement well, with sharp crisp passes. They double teamed Rick Jackson all night and stymied the Orange offense.

I feel bad for Rick Jackson. I hate to see a senior’s career end, particularly on a night where he is having a bad game. Jackson was clearly frustrated all night, and though his shooting wasn’t bad (3 for 6), he only had 6 attempts, and he had only four rebounds. The box score is showing he has 3 turnovers, but it seemed like more.

Scoop had more than his share of ‘Scoop moments’ tonight. Lord knows what he was thinking at the end of the first half when he jacked a three point attempt with 19 seconds to go, and the Orange had the opportunity to run the clock down for one shot. Instead SU missed, and Marquette scored. He is being credited with only 3 turnovers too, but it surely seemed like more. You knew he was going to rush a three point attempt at the end when the Orange were down by three… and he did, even though he was guarded, there was plenty of time, and the Orange had no rebounding position.

The foul calls seemed lopsided but I don’t recall seeing bad calls or missed calls. I think it was a case of the more aggressive team drawing more fouls. Marquette consistently beat the Orange down the court; they did it at least twice after the Orange made a basket. Shameful for Syracuse!

The future for the Orange should be bright. Dion Waiters is going to be one heck of an offensive player in the future; if he can learn to play solid defense he’ll be outstanding all around. James Southerland showed flashes tonight. He has a summer to grow and mature some more. C.J. Fair was hampered by fouls tonight, and was pretty much a non-factor, but we have all seen his ability to stuff the stat sheet all year long.

The team frustrated me all season long with their sloppy play at times, and tonight is really a fitting ending to the season.

Mid-Majors Get Robbed (Predictably)

The Big East did deserve 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, despite the fact that many of Syracuse’s Big East brethren are working hard at tarnishing that with all the upsets. As I pointed out the other day, eleven Big East teams were going to make the tournament and it was not even going to be close (and it wasn’t based on the seeding). If you look at the Big East team’s records, ignoring which conference they were in, and compared them to all the other ‘at large’ teams out there, there was no question about it.

Fans upset about the mid-majors being denied should look at the lower teams from the Big 10, Pac 10 and ACC. Their resumes were far less impressive, and for the most part, their results have equally been sub-par.

The mid-majors are suffering from a scenario where they had no strength of resume to make the tournament. This has evolved over the past four to five years from how the NCAA Committee looks at team’s schedules. I had stated in 2007 that mid-majors would find it more difficult in the future to get at-large bids in the NCAA, and it is true.

A team like Syracuse has no reason to schedule a mid-major. The national experts, such as Dick Vitale, will only criticize Syracuse for playing a mid-major, screaming that they should be playing major conference teams. If they beat a mid-major team, they get no respect from the analysts. On the other hand, they have a chance of losing those games, and that loss will kill them later in the year from a voter perception.

Plus scheduling the mid-majors hurts your RPI. 25% of the RPI scoring is your opponent’s opponent SOS… so every time you schedule a mid-major (and for that matter any lesser conference team), you drag down your RPI, because you get the total results of that entire conference. Playing Georgia Tech, Michigan and North Carolina State this year in the non-conference schedule helped Syracuse, regardless how well those teams did, because you tie in all the teams in those conferences into your RPI.

So now we are in the position where none of the major teams will play mid-majors on a regular basis, thus giving the mid-major conferences little opportunity to get wins for their resumes. As I had pointed out the other day, none of the mid-major conferences looked particularly good in 2011. That doesn’t mean they were not good; they just had no body of evidence to suggest it because of limited exposure against the ‘better’ conferences.

A side note on the NCAA scheduling Connecticut and Cincinnati, and Syracuse and Marquette to all meet in the 2nd round of the tournament: shame on the NCAA. It’s clear they wanted the Big East schools to knock each other out of the tournament. The NCAA implied it was the mathematics of the situation that caused the situation to occur. Well, mathematically, there are sixteen ‘pods’ in the NCAA first two rounds, and only 11 Big East teams. All 16 Big East teams could make the tournament, and not be required to meet each other until the Sweet Sixteen.

Look, it’s fine if the NCAA wants to have Big East teams knock each other out of the tournament. Just admit it. As representative of schools of higher learning, you just look like fools stating a falsehood as your reasoning, and you insult the intelligence of your fans. As a Syracuse fan, I do feel cheated having to play a Big East team in the NCAA. I would like to see the Orange play a school they have not played, so we can see how the Orange really measure up. Playing Marquette, this early in the tournament, really offers us nothing new.

Besides, with the historical tradition of the ‘Madness’ in March Madness, you know that Big East schools were not all going to survive anyhow.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Milestones Entering the NCAA

Congratulations to the Orange for earning a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament. And congratulations to the UConn Huskies for winning five straight and winning the Big East tournament. The Huskies now tie the Hoyas for most Big East Tournament championships with 7.

Some quick notes on milestones for the Orange. Brandon Triche now holds the school record of 37 consecutive free throws made, breaking Mike Lee's record. He does not yet hold the Big East record for consecutive free throws made, which is 41. More notably, that record is held by a Syracuse player. So how is that possible? More on that later in the article.

Rick Jackson has played 141 games for Syracuse, and trails only Stephen Thompson (144 games) and Derrick Coleman (143 games) for games in a Syracuse uniform. A trip to the Sweet 16 would tie him for the school record, and Elite Eight would break it for him.

Jackson has 349 rebounds for the season. Earlier in the year he was on pace to break Coleman’s single season school rebounding record of 422. However, he now needs 74 rebounds to do that; if the Orange were to go to the national championship with 6 more games, he’d have to average 12.3 rebounds a game. That’s not to negate the fact that big Rick has had an outstanding season rebounding. He’s been consistent game after game this year.

Jackson now has 256 career blocked shots, which is good for seventh all-time at Syracuse. 7 more blocked shots would get him to 5th all time, passing Darryl Watkins and Jeremy McNeil. I never would have thought Jackson was that much of a shot blocker, but the statistics state otherwise.

Syracuse’s loss to UConn in the Big East Tournament was coach Jim Boeheim’s 300th career loss. It was going to occur, and really, for a guy with 855 wins, who cares?

Scoop Jardine needs 10 more assists to become the 8th Orangeman to have a 200+ assist season (Sherman Douglas did it three times).

Kris Joseph has 956 career points. He should get to 1000 points in the NCAA tournament. It would be very disappointing to all the Orange faithful if he did not (the implications being how poorly the Orange would have done).

Brando Triche has made 84.6% of his free throws this season, the 16th best season in Syracuse history (minimum of 50 attempts).

So who holds the Big East consecutive free throw record? The answer is Gerry McNamara. GMac started the streak in his first Big East game against Seton Hall on January 8th, 2003, and broke his streak during the Georgetown game on February 3rd, 2003. He, however, did not make 37 in a row? Why? Because the Orangemen played Missouri on January 13th, 2003, and McNamara missed a free throw in that game. It was a non-Big East game, so it did not impact his Big East shooting streak, but it did snap his Syracuse streak. McNamara would have two 30 free throw streaks that season.

Let’s go Orange!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hello Melo!

Holy mackerel! Was that Fab Melo dominating a game? Mr. Melo, where have you been all year? I'm not complaining... glad to have you in March.

For those who missed the game, freshman Fab Melo played 22 minutes off the bench today, including most of the crunch time in a see-saw battle. He scored 12 points on 5 for 5 shooting from the floor, had 4 rebounds, and 1 beautiful pass to Rick Jackson from the high post. Even a nice close out on a three point shooter in the last 30 seconds of the game.

All of this was following his then-season best effort against DePaul where he went again went 5 for 5 from the floor. The last two games, Melo has scored 22 points, pulled down 10 rebounds on 10-10 from the floor and four blocked shots, in 38 minutes of play.

Brandon Triche led the team in scoring with 22 points, icing the game in the last 20 seconds with his free throw shooting. He went 8-8 from the free throw line, extending his streak to 37 consecutive free throws, along with a solid 5 assists and 6 rebounds.

Rick Jackson just missed his double double with 'only' 9 rebounds, but another nice day for Jackson, including 4 blocked shots, five offensive boards, and some clutch rebounds in traffic down the stretch. And C.J. Fair gave a nice spark off the bench with 7 rebounds in 14 minutes of play.

UConn is up next. Bring on the Huskies!

Will Big East Get 11?

The Big East should be sending 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament next week, and that was probably true before Marquette won any games in the Big East Tournament. Now that Marquette has won two games in the BET, I think it is a guarantee.

It is not only the depth of talent and success in the Big East that makes this so obvious. It is the lack of good teams in other conferences this year that is going to force the NCAA Committee to choose eleven of the Big East brethern.

Historically, there are some solid mid-major teams that deserve to be in the NCAA tournament because they beat up on some of the top 25 teams during the season. That isn’t the case this year.

The following 15 conferences have no wins against Top 25 teams: America East, Big Sky, Big South, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American (0-14), Mid-Eastern Athletic (0-11), Missouri Valley (0-10), Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, Southern (0-10), Southland (0-11), Southwestern Atlantic (0-11), and Sun Belt. Normally you have solid arguments from the Mid-American, Missouri Valley and Mid-Eastern Athletic conferences for inclusion of multiple teams; those conferences are a combined 0-35 versus the top 25 this year.

The following 6 conferences have one win each against a Top 25 team: Atlantic Sun, UC Santa Barbara, Colonial Athletic, Horizon, Summit League (1-17), West Coast, and Western Athletic.

Oakland (of the Summit League) is one of the few teams in the mid-majors who could make an argument for going to the tournament on their resume alone (25-9, 15-7 away from home, 1-4 versus top 25) and they won their own tournament, so they are moot point.

The Atlantic 10 has four wins against Top 25 teams.

The Pac 10 has only one ranked team: Arizona, and they are 0-3 versus the top 25. UCLA could make an argument at 22-9, 2-2 versus top 25, 6-7 away from home. USC is 3-1, but currently has an 18-13 record, so that’s not a great record considering their overall competition.

The top four teams in Conference USA are 0-4 against the Top 25. The middle of Conference USA makes a stronger argument with Southern Miss, Marshall and UCF going a combined 3-1.

The ACC has only 2 ranked teams (Duke and North Carolina) in the top 25. Duke is 4-1 vs the Top 25, but NC is only 2-3. Florida State is 2-4, though at 21-9 with a 8-5 road record FSU should be fine. Clemson, #4 in the ACC is only 1-2 against the Top 25, 3-7 on the road, and 20-10 overall. I don’t see how that betters any Big East team.

The Big Ten has three teams that did well against the Top 25 with Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. #4 Illinois is 1-6 versus the top 25, Michigan 1-7, Michigan State 3-8 (and MSU lost to both UConn and SU

Mountain West goes two teams with San Diego State and Brigham Young. #3 UNLV is only 1-5 against the top 25, though they are an impressive 12-3 away from home. The rest of Mountain West is 2-25 versus the top 25.

The SEC has two ranked teams (Florida and Kentucky). Vanderbilt makes a good argument, but Georgia is only 20-10 with a 1-5 top 25 record. Alabama is only 20-10 with a 1-3 top 25 record. Those aren’t bad, but they aren’t screaming ‘take me’. Tennessee is a respectable 4-4, and had a lot of off-the-court issues this year, but their overall record is now 18-13.

The Big 12 run deep with a lot of wins against Top 25 teams, and six teams currently with 20+ wins. A lot of their bubble teams are horrendous on the road: Colorado 3-9, Nebraska 1-7, Baylor 2-6, Oklahoma State 2-9.

Contrast this with the Big East’s top 11 teams. They all have 20+ wins. The worst road record of the group is 4-7 which isn’t that bad; seven have winning road records. They are 28-10 on neutral courts. 9 teams in the top 25. Marquette was the closest thing to a bubble team, and they are now 20-13 overall, 4-9 on the road. Compare that to the other conferences 3-5 seeds, and you should be impressed. Marquette’s RPI is only 64, so that would be their biggest concern, but you don’t win two games in the Big East tournament, on top of a solid resume, and go home.

Villanova may have put themselves at risk; if any Big East team doesn’t make it, it would be the Wildcats who have lost 5 straight including an embarrassing loss to South Florida. But they are 21-11 overall, 5-8 versus top 25 teams, and their RPI is still #37 in the country. They have big wins over Temple, Louisville, Syracuse and West Virginia. And their overall body of work, compared to the weak efforts from other conferences, still points them in.

Syracuse, of course, is a tourney lock, and have been for a while. They have no bad losses (Seton Hall is the worst loss and they are 97 in the RPI). They have 12 total quality wins, and five of those are signature wins against Notre Dame, St. Johns, UConn, West Virginia and Georgetown. They are 6-4 versus the top 25, 9-3 away from home, 12-6 in the conference and 25-6 overall. The question is what seed they will get, and it appears around a #3.