Sunday, March 18, 2012

Recipe for a 33-2 Record

Syracuse is now 33-2, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.  The Orange had a slight scare in the first round to UNC – Asheville, but I would suggest that while the score was indeed close, the outcome was very consistent with the Syracuse basketball.
The casual Syracuse observer may not be aware of the pattern for the Orange this season, but his is the team’s recipe for winning games:
1 – Let the opposing team jump to a 9-15 point lead early in the game
2 – Then reel them back in, tying up the score towards the end of the first half, or early in the second half.
3 – Pull away from the other team with a 7-8 point lead.
4 – Let the other team get back into the game to keep it close.  Often this is related to a couple of ‘Scoop moments’ or the opposition closing their eyes and banking in a couple of desperation three point shots as the shot clock expires.
5 -  Play shutdown defense the last two minutes of the game, closing the door on the opponent’s ability to get back into the game.
There are variations within that framework, but it surely describes many of the Syracuse games this year.  It has given many Orange fans a bit of anxiety, myself included, and even though I have gotten to the point where I know that is how it is going to play out, it still unnerves me. 
Lost in the midst of the bad call controversy of the UNC Asheville game was the outstanding defense by Syracuse in the last 21 seconds of the game.  The Bulldogs were down by two possessions, and knew they would have to score twice. They came down the court, and Syracuse played such stifling defense that for 10-12 seconds, very precious time, the Bulldogs could not even get a glimpse of the basket.  Finally out of desperation they tried to pass the basket down low, the Orange intercepted the ball, and the game was officially over.
The officiating, while bad, has clearly been proven not to be the determining factor of the outcome of the game.  The officials properly called the lane violation, much to the fans dismay.  And they blew the out of bounds call; they should have called the foul for bumping Triche, sending the Orange’s best free throw shooter to the line.
Even if the calls were bad calls, and even if the officials had called them the other way (i.e. no lane violation, and gave the ball to the Bulldogs on the out of bounds), I would submit the Orange still would have won.  It would have changed the situations in the game in both instances, but the Orange have seemed to win all those close games this year.  They have the knack for causing the crucial turnover, making the clutch shot, and shutting down offenses when they must. 
The Kansas State game followed the same formula, with the difference being that the Orange offense was highly effective and efficient in the second half, and the game became a blowout, so there was no late comeback.
For those who think Syracuse is overrated: they are 33-2.  The object of the game is to win games; they won one of the major conferences easily, won all their big games of the season, and did not lose to anyone they should not have.  They aren’t impressing people with their style points, and they have had many ugly wins mainly because their offense can be downright ugly at times and their defense makes other teams look ugly.  The bottom line is they are winning games.  Even if they were to lose their next game, that does not mean they are overrated; this is the NCAA tournament and upsets will happen, with ultimately only one team winning six in a row.

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