Sunday, March 04, 2012

30-1! A Season for the Ages

The Orange wrapped up the regular season in style, sweeping the Louisville Cardinals with a 58-49 victory at the Carrier Dome.  Fittingly, in a season where the team really plays as a team, senior point guard Scoop Jardine was held scoreless, and was happy about it.
Syracuse is 30-1, establishing a new benchmark for wins in a regular season, besting their record of 28 set two years ago. The school record for total wins in a season is 31, set in 1986-1987, and the team should pass that mark with their post season activity.  Their one loss in the regular season is the fewest ever since post season activity began, and regardless of how their season ends, they will finish the year with their fewest losses since at least 1934-1935 when the team went 15-2.
The Orange finished 19-0 at home, only their second undefeated season in the Carrier Dome. The previous effort was from the 2002-2003 national championship team.
The games also marked the 71st time the Carrier Dome has had a crowd in excess of 30,000 fans.  Syracuse has now run their record to 48-23 in those games, including winning 11 of the last 14 big crowd games.
The Big East Tournament looms ahead, and the Orange are fortunate to get the double round bye. We will not know the Orange opponent until the end of day Wednesday. It will certainly be a team that is playing well, and playing for its post season life.  It will be another tough game.
Syracuse completed this season 5-0 against top 25 teams. The Big East was down compared to the past few seasons, and Syracuse has played its fewest top 25 ranked teams since the 2001-2002 season. However, the postseason action will certainly bump that number up a few places.  And though the number of ranked Big East teams was not as high as it has been the past few years, that does not mean the Big East was an easy schedule. Far from it.
First of all, comparing any league to the level the Big East played the past few seasons is a ridiculous standard. Secondly, ask talented teams like Pitt, Villanova and UConn about how difficult they thought this schedule was. If you are not ready to play each and every game, you will end up on the losing side of the ledger.
The Orange are 30-1.  That is absolutely remarkable; I do not care who you play. That record is a testament to the players and to the Syracuse coaching staff.  It speaks well of the leadership of the team leaders Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph. And it speaks well of the character of their teammates who bought into what they were selling.
The Big East post season accolades should be very interesting.  Several factors will come into play with Syracuse players getting consideration: (1) how much do the coaches recognize the top players focusing on the team effort instead of personal glory; (2) how much weight does the 17-1 conference record carry; (3) how much will the deep play of Syracuse and the lack of ‘go to’ players split the votes for Syracuse players?  And of course, in an eighteen team league, it’s tough to get any recognition with that much competition.
I think Jim Boeheim should win the Big East Coach of the Year. The Orange were expected to finish tied atop the Big East, but they greatly exceeded anyone’s expectations on how they did it. If you throw in the backdrop of the Bernie Fine situation, and the short term Fab Melo suspension, you have a coach who won the conference, overcome obstacles, and overachieved. What more can you ask? I know Buzz Williams (Marquette) and Mike Brey (Notre Dame) had outstanding seasons, each with their own story, but Boeheim should win it. He won’t. It will be Brey or Williams.
Syracuse’s zone defense has been the story throughout college basketball all season, and Fab Melo’s importance to that defense was undeniable, as evidenced by the impact on the team when he was missing for three games.  I think the team sacrificed individual offensive glory for the team defense, and I think coaches recognize that. I think Melo does win the Big East defensive player of the year.
If Melo is going to win the defensive player of the year, he has got to be a lock on the Most Improved Player.  The improvement in his game from last season to this season is well documented, and well known.  I would be shocked if he does not get this recognition.
The Big East Sixth man award will be interesting. First of all C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters will split the votes between one another. I personally do not consider Fair a sixth man.  He does not start the game, but he does replace Rakeem Christmas very early in the game, and he keeps that position for the rest of the game.  It is not as if Boeheim uses Fair to give Joseph a breather at any point.  Rather he uses Southerland to give Joseph and Fair a breather.  Fair is really a starter who just does not happen to start. Waiters on the other hand is a sixth man. He splits time at both the point and shooting guard positions, and may partner with either Triche or Jardine on the court. He often plays more minutes than either of them, but not always. I would vote for Waiters as the Sixth Man, and I think he will win it; but the split vote and a perception that he is not really a sixth man could hurt him.
The All Big East Team selections are the biggest mystery to me.  I would suspect that Joseph, Jardine and Waiters will all make selections to one of the teams, and I would hope Jardine and Joseph make first team. Melo might squeak in on the third team. We’ll have to see when results are released this week.
However the post season accolades go, it has been a great regular season, and now it’s time to gear up for some post season fun!
Let’s Go Orange!

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