Saturday, January 18, 2014
Another Notch in the Belt
Syracuse pulled off another victory today, this time beating #22 Pitt 59-54 at the Carrier Dome. The Orange continue to test their mettle by yet grinding out another close game down the stretch. Syracuse led most of the second half, only to see the Panthers take the lead late in the game. Pitt lead 52-49 with 2:39 to go in the game; the Orange would reclaim the lead with 1:30 to go a layup by Tyler Ennis, and they would never relinquish that lead down the stretch.
If Syracuse fans have not figured it out yet, the Orange have a special young man in their point guard. Ennis is an extremely poised individual, and seems to make all the right decisions. He had yet another game with only one turnover. I thought if any team was going to fluster him it would be Pitt with their brutish defensive style, but Ennis had not problem with it.
Instead he scored six straight points while giving the Orange a lead and a small cushion of lead in the last two minutes of the game. I do not know how this season will end up, but I am enjoying every minute of it right now. I am not sure where I would rank Ennis among Syracuse's all-time great point guards, but he warrants discussion in that group. That in itself is quite a compliment.
Syracuse broke 30,000 for the game, giving them 75 games all-time. They now have a 50-25 advantage in those games. The trend also continued with these large crowd games being low scoring. The 59 points for the Orange today was the most points by the winning team in the last five 30k games.
By the way, did you know that Pitt now has the second most 30k games in the Dome? Number one is Georgetown, of course, with 17 games. Pitt is now second with 8, and Syracuse is 6-2 against Pitt in the 30k games. I was surprised to see that Pitt had surpassed UConn, Villanova and St. John's; while Pitt has been very good for quite a while, they just never seem to be quite the same draw for SU fans. And really, if you look at when the games occurred, its not the recent Pitt success that gave them the 8 games. They played 30k crowds in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1991, 2003, 2004 and 2014. It had been 10 years since Pitt was that type of draw.
Jim Boeheim beat Jamie Dixon for the second straight game today, but Dixon still holds a 10-5 advantage over Boeheim and Syracuse. A lot of talk this week has been on why Dixon is so good against Boeheim and SU's zone. First of all, let us not discount the fact that Pitt has been a top 10 / top 20 program for most of Dixon's career. He is a quality coach with a quality program.
I don't think, however, it is so much a matter of Dixon figuring out the zone, as much as Pitt playing a style that very effective against the zone. Dixon's mentor Ben Howland also had success against Syracuse the last couple of seasons before he left for UCLA, and Dixon coaches very much like Howland. Both coaches like an aggressive in-your-face defense, with a strong emphasis crashing the boards for offensive rebounds and taking good care of the ball of offense.
I think Pitt's success against Syracuse is more a result of them consistently having a strong offensive rebounding edge, than Pitt being excellent at dissecting the zone. To me it is more of a case of Pitt throwing the ball up on the boards and then going and putting it home with aggressive play. The one area the zone is particularly week against is defending against offensive rebounds, because defensive players do not have player assignments to block out, and that plays to Pitt's strengths.
Add in the fact that Pitt is not careless with the ball, and they are aggressive on defense, and they make things happen. They make their own breaks in the game and take advantage of them.
The one thing that has always frustrated me with watching Dixon's teams in the NCAA is that I do not feel they have an offensive scheme. They are extremely focused on their defense and their rebounding, and when they have to beat six talented teams in a row, teams that are also crashing the boards relentlessly, it becomes very difficult for Pitt to them find the go to guy they need. This year they have Lamar Patterson, an excellent all around player. They may be able to ride him for post season success if they can figure out how to truly rotate their offensive scheme around him.
Anyhow, it was a big win today for the Orange. 18-0! Let's go Orange!