Sunday, April 21, 2013

A New Iceman at the Line?

Baye Keita entered his junior season as a 56% career free throw shooter, making only 31 of 55 career attempts. He was not the worst free throw shooter in Syracuse history; there are several worst, with Herman Harried, Arinze Onuaku and Derek Brower leading the way.  But he was a poor shooter.

After the first three games of the 2012-2013 season, Keita was even worse, shooing 49% from the charity stripe, making only 18 of 37 free throws.  He was at that point a 53% career free throw shooter.

I do not know what got into Keita at that point. Perhaps extensive practice was finally paying off. Maybe he got a DNA swap with Gerry McNamara (Syracuse's all-time free throw shooter at 89%).  Maybe extensive praying paid off.  Who knows?

What we do know is that Keita would shoot seven for seven from the line against Georgetown in the Big East semi-finals, helping to propel the Orange into the Big East Championship.  Without each and everyone one of those made free throws, Syracuse does not go into overtime in that game. 

But Keita did not stop there.  He shot an okay 4 for 6 against Louisville in the Big East tournament.  A mere 0-1 against Montana in the first round of the NCAA.  Then a decent 7 of 10 versus California in the NCAA 2nd round.  Keita followed that up with a 3 for 4 effort against Indiana in the Elite Eight.

Not only was Keita making his free throws, but his form looked good in those games. He would made 21 of 28 free throws in his last seven games of the season, a nice 75%.  I do not know about you, but I honestly felt more comfortable down the stretch with him at the free throw line than Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche.

Hopefully Keita has found his shooting touch, and this will be a sign of good shooting for 2013-2014.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Season is Over

It is always bittersweet when the season is over, with the exception of 2002-2003.  A loss is always the last game of the year, and it is tough to end that way.  Player's careers end, and the team as you know it ceases to exist.

This year's team did not disappoint me.  It was a flawed team, as many in the NCAA were.  They lost their mojo down the stretch of the regular season, and that did disappoint me, particularly with it being the last year of the Big East.  However, they redeemed, and revitalized themselves in the Big East Tournament, and carried that success over to the NCAA tournament.

The Orange would dominate their first four games of the NCAA tournament, making tournament worthy teams look inept on offense. Syracuse was playing their zone defense at its best, generating high turnovers, reducing shooting percentages, and simply frustrating teams out of their game plans.

Last night the Michigan Wolverines were able to jump out to a 36-25 halftime lead, primarily for three reasons. The first was that Mitch McGary kept his phenomenal post-season play going, doing his best Bill Walton impression with his shooting, rebounding and passing.

The second was Michigan's ability to hit the shots in the first half. A couple of bench players came in and made some three point shots, and Michigan made a couple of 30 foot three point shots in desperation.  

The third was that Syracuse could not handle Michigan's defense, could not figure out how to score.

I will digress for a second here while I rant about my feelings of the national media and halftime shows. I often wonder if they watch the same games I do. I have more of a feeling that they make up their minds before the game begins, and then use the action in the first half of the game to justify their positions.

Look, Michigan made some nice plays in the first half against Syracuse's defense.  Michigan also made some incredibly difficult shots.  A team runs a defense to force another team to take shots it doesn't want to take; that is how the game works. If that other team happens to make those difficult shots, you tip your hat to them.  You don't need to adjust your defense to account for it, though all the experts at halftime indicated that is exactly what the Orange would need to do.

The experts made very little reference to the fact that Syracuse's offense was struggling against Michigan's underrated defense. That was the real story of the game. 

I could not believe the experts were suggesting that Syracuse, down by 11, would need to adjust its defensive scheme to win the game.  Nonsense. 

Instead, Syracuse did exactly what it needed to do. It turned up the pressure a little with its zone, kept playing its solid defense, and slowly brought themselves into the game. 

C.J. Fair had an outstanding game, and Michigan had very little answer for him.  He ended up hitting 9 of 20 shots, but it sure seemed like he was hitting more than that.

Jerami  Grant game in and gave the Orange a much needed lift, something he hasn't done for a while.  His seven rebounds in seventeen minutes were very important.  

Syracuse's defense stymied Michigan's offense in the second half. The NCAA Player of the Year, Trey Burke, could never figure out the defense.  He scored only 7 points on 1-8 shooting, and had only 4 assists. Tim Hardaway Jr was 4 of 16 from the field.  The sharp shooting Nik Stauskas, who had just torched Florida with 6 for 6 three point shooting, and had a 43.9% three point shooting on the year, was held to 0 for 4.

The Orange did a lot right last night, and should be proud of their accomplishments. They got back into the game, and had a few pivotal moments where it was theirs to take, but the breaks did not fall.  The biggest moment down the stretch was during Syracuse's big run, and Carter-Williams had the great defensive play on Hardway, drawing the charge on the trap just beyond half court. That play would have been a dagger into the Wolverines souls, and given Syracuse the ball.

Instead, the referee erred and called it a blocking foul on Carter-Williams.  This had the triple impact of not giving Syracuse the ball, giving the Wolverine free throws, AND giving Carter-Williams his fourth personal foul, which would be extremely critical a minute later when he fouled out.

I don't want to hark on that moment, though in the tide of a game, that was huge. It cannot be understated.

Nevertheless, the bottom line why the Orange did not win was that Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland could not deliver throughout the game.  As well as Carter-Williams had played in the tournament, he struggled on Saturday night. Defensively he was outstanding (look at Burke & Hardaway). But offensively he did nothing; his passing and running of the offense was negated, and he turned the ball over 5 times.

Triche played a decent game, but Syracuse needed more from him.  They needed him to be able to hit a three point shot; he wisely only took two (he missed), but a big night from Triche shooting would have helped.  He was smart and realized he could drive to the hoop, and kept doing that late in the game. A very wise move... the type of move he kept forgetting about all year.  It was questionable whether or not he charged on this last foul; I applaud him for deciding to take it to the hoop.  It was the right decision, just the wrong outcome. Hidden in Triche's game was his outstanding defense (MCW had help in shutting down the Michigan guards), and his ball handling. Triche had 8 assists and only 2 turnovers for the game.

Syracuse really missed James Southerland. Michigan played him tight, but he did get a few open shots.  If Southerland had made a couple of those shots earlier in the game, something he had done all year long, that would have made a huge difference.  Syracuse also missed Southerlands defensive play and rebounding that he had excelled at lately.

Keep in mind that Southerland was missing some open shots that he normally makes, and two bench players for Michigan (Albrecht & LeVert) went 4 for 5 from three point range.  That type of thing makes a HUGE difference in a tight game.

Syracuse still had its chances in the last minute, despite the fact that its two starting guards were both out of the game, and they had no real ball handler on the court.  

The team never gave up. They played as a team down the stretch, they gave it all they could.  It was a game they could've won, and that will bother the players.  But the Orange never folded, like they did at points this year. They never panicked.  The team had offensive limitations all year, and those limitations could not be overcome down the stretch against a Wolverine team that was playing with real defensive intensity.

So, my thanks to the Orange for a wonderful season.  It's not a National Championship, but you gave us all a fun ride through the NCAA Tournament.

The Empire State Building Lit Up in Blue & Orange

The Empire State Building's North side lit up to honor Syracuse University's participation in the NCAA Final Four.
Photo courtesy of Anne Latimer Hart, Matter Inc.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Lights on the Empire State Building: Press Release


The Empire State Building will celebrate the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four on Saturday, April 6, 2013, by shining its world-famous tower lights in each of the four teams’ colors, then in the winning teams’ colors following the games.

Beginning at sunset on Saturday, ESB will shine its four sides for each team:
  • North Side: Syracuse University (orange and blue)
  • East Side: University of Michigan (navy blue and yellow)
  • South Side: University of Louisville (red and white)
  • West Side: Wichita State (yellow and black)

Following the games, ESB will shine its north and south sides for the winner of University of Louisville vs. Wichita State, and its east and west sides for the winner of Syracuse University vs. University of Michigan.

A special, interactive lighting will be held for the championship game on Monday, April 8.

About the Empire State Building
Soaring 1,454 feet above Midtown Manhattan (from base to antenna), the Empire State Building is the “World’s Most Famous Office Building.” With new investments in infrastructure, public areas and amenities, the Empire State Building has attracted first-rate tenants in a diverse array of industries from around the world. The skyscraper’s robust broadcasting technology supports all major television and FM radio stations in the New York metropolitan market. The Empire State Building was named America’s favorite building in a poll conducted by the American Institute of Architects. The Empire State Building Observatory is one of the world’s most beloved attractions and is the region’s #1 tourist destination. For more information on the Empire State Building, please visit,, or @EmpireStateBldg.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Brandon Triche in Review

Brandon Triche has one of the most difficult careers to define at Syracuse. Is he an overrated local player who was fortunate enough to be along for the ride on three great Syracuse squads? Or is he an integral part of those teams that defined whether they one or loss the games? Triche has started a school record 146 games, soon to be 147 come this Saturday.

Three Point Shooting: If you don’t think getting open looks and having defenses sag off of you don’t make a difference, take a look a Triche’s three point shooting season by season. As a freshman he made 40% of his shots (32 of 80). He benefited a lot because opposing defenses had to respect Andy Rautins on the perimeter, Wesley Johnson everywhere on the court, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson with their high percentage shooting inside, and Kris Joseph slashing to the hoop. A great situation for a freshman sharpshooter to be in, and Triche delivered.
As a sophomore, Triche became the main three point shooter, and his percentage dropped to 33%. Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph also took to shooting the trey, but nobody was a serious threat… at least not of the level of Rautins and Johnson.

Ditto with his junior season; there was no great three point shooters, though a bevy of guys who all shot in that 35% range. Triche hit 35%.

This season Triche inexplicably has dropped to 29%. That is just plain awful for a guy who shoots as much as he does. And his career has shown that he should be about a 34%-35% shooter in this situation.

Free Throw Shooting: Triche struggled at the line his freshman year, hitting only 63% of his free throws. His sophomore season, Triche became an iceman at that free throw line, hitting 84% of his charity shots, including a school record 37 consecutive free throws. Triche dropped a little his junior year, hitting 77.5%, but still was a solid shooter, and was often on the court the last few minutes of the game because of his stellar free throw shooting.

His senior year, Triche is hitting 74% of his free throws. That’s an average number, somewhat respectable. But he now seems to miss all the crucial free throws, the complete opposite of the previous two years.
Clutch Shooting: Triche was often removed from the court his freshman year during crunch time because Jardine was a much better clutch shooter. Yet late in his sophomore season, and throughout his junior season, Triche was seemingly always the guy who would step up and make two critical shots in a row to start a Syracuse rally, or to stop an opposing team’s rally. Even early this season that occurred, and yet that has seemed to completely disappeared from his resume.
Ball Handling: Triche was the steady ball handler his junior season, the guy you wanted on the court during crunch time because he wouldn’t make mistakes. He had a 1.9 assist to turnover ratio that year, which is fine for a 2-guard. This season Triche has twice the number of turnovers, and a 1.27 assist to turnover ratio. The frustrating thing is that a lot of his turnovers appear to be of the freshman variety; that is, poor decision making and sloppy passing.

Driving to the Hoop: Triche is a strong player and has always been excellent at driving to the hoop. It seems like he has settled for more three point shots this year than in the past. Statistically speaking, that is not true. 38.5% of his shots this year are three pointers, compared to 40%, 48% and 41.1% for each of his first three years. So he is taking a higher percentage of his shots inside the arc, albeit a small difference. It just doesn’t seem that way.

He is also shooting at about the same frequency as he has in the past; if anything, it is a little bit less. His junior year, he had a shot every 2.9 minutes. This year he has a shot every 3.0 minutes.

Rebounding: Triche is a good rebounder for a guard, averaging about 3.4 rebounds a game. That’s not record breaking, nor even in Michael Carter-Williams league, but it is a respectable number for a 2-guard. That has remained somewhat consistent for his career.
Reputation: I have read a lot of fans derisively state that the only reason that Triche got a scholarship to Syracuse was that he was Howard Triche’s nephew. Furthermore, that the only reason Jim Boeheim plays him is because of that same reason, and that he wouldn’t start for most top 25 teams

There is no evidence to support that. New York State has a reputation for turning out high quality high school basketball players. Recruiting the New York State Player of the Year, for the highest school classification, would be a plum in the cap of any coach. Brandon Triche earned that distinction his senior year at Jamesville-DeWitt.

Syracuse has been 121-25 in the four years that Triche has played, including 55-17 in the Big East, one of the toughest, if not the toughest conference in the country. That includes two Big East Regular Season Championships, and a 29-12 record against top 25 teams. He is a 6’4” guard with the ability to rebound, drive to the hoop, play some point guard, and in most seasons, make a three. Guys like him will start for most top 25 programs.

Conclusion: Overall, I do not know what to make of Triche’s career. This Final Four run has clearly helped his legacy. During one stretch of this season when James Southerland was out of the line up, Triche would lead the Orange in scoring four out of seven games, including a victory on the road to #1 Louisville. The only loss during that period was an overtime loss to Villanova, where Triche led the team with 23 points. So he has been the big man for a period of this year; we all just seemed to have forgotten that with his terrible play down the regular season stretch.

If I was pushed for an answer, I would say he is a great complimentary player. He is the type of guy that Championship teams have on their starting roster, but not the star of a team. You don’t win championships without guys like Brandon Triche in your lineup, but you also don’t win championships if your team is dependent upon guys like him.