Sunday, March 31, 2013

On To the Final Four!

Syracuse is going to the Final Four after a dominating performance over Big East foe Marquette! Unbelievable, and rewarding to the Syracuse players, coaches and fans.  I was convinced Syracuse was going to win the National Title in 2010-2011 until Arinze Onuaku got hurt.  I was convinced Syracuse was going to the Final Four in 2012-2013 until Fab Melo departed.  Both those teams had stifling defenses and offensive firepower.
This year’s team has a suffocating defense, but a wildly inconsistent offense. They have however, played well and efficient enough to score the points they needed, and they have won their four tournament games with relative ease. When James Southerland hit the time clock desperation 3 pointer with about two minutes to go in the game last night, I knew the game was over.  Just sweet.
Some random thoughts about the Orange:
  • As is well documented, this is Syracuse's fifth Final Four; the fourth under Jim Boeheim. Boeheim is 3-0 in the Final Four, and he has made a Final Four in four different decades. If you count his tenure as an assistant coach, he has made a Final Four in five different decades.
  • Since February 23rd, 2013, Syracuse has played 12 basketball games.  9 of those have been against Top 25 teams, four against Top 5 teams. This team is battle tested.
  • Since the start of the Big East Tournament, Syracuse has played 8 games, five against Top 25 teams, 3 against Top 5 teams.  The Orange are 7-1 in that stretch.
  • The past four games have seen four different Orangemen lead the team in scoring: Triche (Montana), Fair (California), Carter-Williams (Indiana) and Southerland (Marquette).
  • There were a lot of former Syracuse players in attendence at the Verizon center including Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Herman Harried, Leo Rautins and Lawrence Moten.  Of course, alumni Boeheim, Mike Hopkins, Adrian Autry and Gerry McNamara were in attendence at the bench.  Is it just me, or does Syracuse have more former alumni routinely show up for games than any other program?  I think that is a testament to the loyalty between the Coach and his players.
  • This is Syracuse's 6th 30 win season.  Syracuse finished the season ranked 16th, which is the lowest rank for a Syracuse 30 win team.
  • Syracuse's previous Final Four teams finished the regular season ranked as follows:
    • 1974-1975: unranked (not seeded)
    • 1986-1987: 10th (2 seed)
    • 1995-1996: 15th (4 seed)
    • 2002-2003: 11th (3 seed)
    • 2012-2013: 16th (4 seed)
  • Boeheim is 121-25 the past four years (and still going). Simply amazing.
Let's Go ORANGE!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

On to the Elite Eight

A recipe for disaster for Syracuse would be a game where James Southerland is held to 3 points, Michael Carter-Williams has only one assist, and Carter-Williams is the leading scorer on the team.  Yet that is exactly what happened in the Syracuse / Indiana game, and the Orange won handedly. 
I must admit that I thought this team had no chance of making the Final Four, and now they are one very winnable game from being there. Marquette is a tough opponent, and either team could win the game, but this is not a case where Syracuse has to slay Goliath to advance. 
The Syracuse defense has been outstanding in this tournament, and really has been consistently strong all season.  It really hasn’t been a question of whether they could stop their opponents. It has been a question if they could put together enough offense to outscore their opponents. The Orange haven’t been playing perfect on offense, and still are making some ugly unforced errors, but they have been doing enough on offense to win.
Indiana had a game plan that refused to let Syracuse get the ball to Southerland. That is a very smart game plan.  The Syracuse guards responded with the correct action, and that was to take the ball to the hoop, and have the guard play dominate the game.  I hope this mindset of driving to the hoop carries over to today’s game, because when Brandon Triche and Carter-Williams drive the lane, good things happen.
Good luck to the Orange today! It should be a great game.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An Easy First Round Win

The Syracuse Orange played with intensity in their first round game, and they caught an underdog flatfooted resulting in one of the most lopsided NCAA games in SU history.

Syracuse beat the Grizzlies 81-34, a 47 point margin of victory that at one point was 50 points.  Coach Jim Boeheim had senior walk-on Matt Lyde-Cajuste on the court for the last 6 minutes of the game, and that really did not make a difference.

Syracuse held the Grizzlies to 20% shooting from the field (11-54) and 12.9% shooting from three point range (4 of 31).  No Montana player scored more than 5 points in the game. Syracuse was confident offensively, hitting 52% of their shots (27 of 52) and 45% of their three point efforts (5 of 11).  They had an impressive 21 assists on their 27 made field goals, and only 8 turnovers.  There were some sloppy unforced moments by Syracuse, but that did not matter.

Syracuse’s defense was tough, but psychology played into this margin of victory too. Even when Montana did have the open shot, they missed it bad.

This statistically, by far, the best defensive effort the Orange have ever had in the NCAA tournament.  Previously the lowest point total for an opponent was 43 points, by Princeton in a 51-43 win in 1992. That was more a result of Princeton’s slow down offense, than Syracuse’s defense.

Six previous times in the NCAA Tournament the Orange have beaten an opponent by 20+ points. The largest margin of victory was on March 16, 1986 when the Orangemen and Pearl Washington crushed Brown 101-52, a 49 point margin of victory. 

In 2010, the Orange beat Vermont 79-56 in the first round, and Gonzaga 87-65 in the second round. That is the only tournament the Orange beat two teams by 20+ points, and also the last time they had done so before last night.

The Orange love playing Montana teams. In 1996, John Wallace and the Orangemen beat Montana State 88-55 in the first round.

Syracuse easily handled Coppin State in 1990 with a 70-48 victory, and Bucknell in 1989 with a 104-81 victory.

The games do not necessarily carry over to the next effort.  The 1986 effort, for example, was followed by the upset loss to David Robinson and Navy.  The 1996 victory, however, foreshadowed Syracuse’s run to the Championship game against Kentucky. 

That’s why this tournament is called March Madness. Anything can happen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Farewell with Redemption

The Big East Tournament has turned into a fond farewell for the Syracuse players and the fans.  The magic and aura of the madness in Madison Square Garden will dearly be missed, something we all are becoming more aware of each and every game Syracuse advances.  Tonight it will end. 

Fortunately for the Orange, the Tournament is going to bring a positive resolution for many involved.  The backdrop of the poor performance by the Orange over the past few weeks, only heightens what we can observe today.

First, congratulations to Trevor Cooney. We have been hearing about how well he plays in practice, but had yet seen that play in Big East action. Last night, was his coming out party with 10 points, including a couple of threes. More impressive was his hustle, solid defense, and rebounding. He could not have chosen a better stage.

Baye Keita did his Gerry McNamara impression, and calmly drained seven out of seven free throws.  He did a yeoman’s job of handling Georgetown’s big men, and had a team high 13 points.

James Southerland… what a way to shake off some shooting rust.  He has tied the Big East Tournament three point shooting record with his 16 treys, and he still has one game left to play. I am glad to see the senior get some glory in MSG; it allows us to forget his poor shooting down the stretch of the season.

And it was great to see Brandon Triche show some emotion, and get his game back on track. The senior has meant a lot to the Orange over four years, and it was so disappointing to see his season fall apart over the last few weeks. He has had the opportunity to make some treys in the tournament, and has made some excellent decisions in driving to the hoop.  That is the type of play that Triche has shown in the past when he leads this team; it fuels the Orange offense and allows it to fire on all cylinders.

C.J. Fair had a poor game shooting and uncharacteristically made some poor decisions, something he would surely like to forget. But his emphatic dunk in overtime that gave Syracuse the four point margin should erase all memories of that. That dunk will be remembered as one of the greatest in SU history.

It is tough leaving the Big East, and it was very disappointing to close out the regular season playing poorly. Losing to Georgetown in a non-competitive situation in the Dome really hurt. We have all become accustomed to fierce games between the two teams, and that loss was anti-climatic.

Last night’s game erases that memory. A 58-53 overtime win just added to the legacy of the series.  It is unfortunate it is the last meaningful game between the two schools.  Even if the Orange had lost last night, it would have been a fitting conclusion… a hard fought physical games, and something to appreciate. The fact that Syracuse won makes it far sweeter.

Finally, the man who is really getting his due is coach Jim Boeheim.  I hope no one doubts how much the Big East Conference has meant to Boeheim. He has stated that the past two years, but people may just take it for granted. Having the opportunity to play Georgetown last night was extra special for him; you could tell by his emotions down the stretch and post game.  Typically the only emotions you will see from Boeheim in a game are anger and stoicism.  Last night you could see that Boeheim really wanted to win the game; it was very special for him. He was displaying excitement about the players positive scoring in the last few minutes of the game and in overtime.  His moist eyes in the post game interviews revealed any more.  The Georgetown series is now officially over.

I’ve been blessed to be old enough to be able to watch all the Big East Tournaments since inception. This is meaningful to me.  Just think about how meaningful it is to Jim Boeheim? He lives and breaths college basketball, and loves the Big East. This isn’t just a hobby for him; it has been an integral part of his life, and he knows it is going away forever.  It has to make him feel very happy knowing that his team put on a good show during their last Big East Tournament.

I think that is all he wanted from this week. And I think Syracuse fans would all agree.