I’m starting to believe this Syracuse team can finish in the top five in the Big East.
Why? Primarily because there’s no way they would have won that overtime thriller against the Kansas Jayhawks last year. In Kansas City with thousands of screaming Rock Chalk diehards. Down double digits in the second half.
This is a new Syracuse team. Not one that folds defensively, makes careless turnovers, has absolutely no depth and won’t make adjustments. Hell, Jim Boeheim even ditched his patented zone defense midway through the second half after the athletic Jayhawks were attacking it with ease (most notably impressive freshman Tyshawn Taylor) and went straight man-to-man, allowing athletic defenders like Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn more leeway to be aggressive.
It appears to me defense would be the only thing holding back this Orange team from finshing in the top five in the loaded Big East, and even in that area I feel they can surely improve to an above-average defensive team in time for March. They have the pieces necessary to patch together a top-15/20 caliber campaign- an intelligent, steady, playmaking, clutch shooting point guard who allows the inconsistent Eric Devendorf to play off the ball in Jonny Flynn, who clearly outplayed the fatigued Sherron Collins late in that game. They have Arinze Onuaku in the post, who has made it clear to me in these two CBE Classic games he can become a star in the Big East. It baffles me why Boeheim doesn’t attempt to keep him more involved in the offense (I think Dickie V pointed this out). He’s also a ferocious rebounder and a superb defender, swatting away two Kansas shots late in the game on one possession and actually bringing me to my feet.
Okay, so the depth isn’t tremendous. Rick Jackson won’t provide much off the pine. But the additions of both Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins give this Syracuse team an entirely new dimension, spreading the defense and allowing both Flynn and Onuaku more room to work on the outside and inside, respectively. I also saw some encouraging play from freshman forward Kris Joseph in the tournament.
Bottom line: This Syracuse team is much more poised, mature and developed than a season ago when they missed the NCAA Tournament. While the Big East is loaded and I have a difficult time believing they’ll outlast Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame or Pittsburgh at the top of the conference, stranger things have happened. Credit Jim Boeheim for avoiding all cupcakes and challenging his Syracuse team to see what they’re made of early in the season. It certainly paid off.
#8 Notre Dame 81, #7 Texas 80: Both of these teams showed Tuesday night in a hotly contested Maui battle that they’re top ten teams. Both entered the game playing phenomenal defense- Notre Dame at 54 PPG and Texas at an even more impressive 46.3 PPG- but both explosive offenses managed to score 80 points in a thriller that Notre Dame almost blew from the free throw line. They held a seemingly comfortable eight point lead with about a minute to go when Tory Jackson, Zach Hillesland and Luke Harangody missed six free throws down the stretch to aid a Texas comeback. A 60-foot desperation heave from A.J. Abrams (who finished just 5/17 from behind the arc and took 27 shots total) hit the front rim in a shot that surely had the entire city of South Bend holding their breath.
Both squads made it fairly clear they belong in the top ten in the nation and could reach the Final Four. Texas received a strong effort from Justin Mason (16 pts, 7/12 FG, 7 reb, 5 asst and an electric dunk), Damion James (11pts, 12reb, 4/10 FG, didn’t force outside jumpers), Gary Johnson (5/11 FG, 10 pts, 8 reb) and Abrams even though he struggled overall from behind the arc. For the Irish, Kyle McAlarney did his thing, hitting five threes and scoring 19 points. Tory Jackson had another solid game (6/12 FG, 16 pts, 7 reb, 5asst, 2 TO) and Harangody finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and a desperation heave from nearly halfcourt that banked in late in the second half. Mike Brey should be concerned about two things, though: 1) Yeah, Texas is a very potent offensive team, but Notre Dame struggled yet again defensively, 2) they got all of two points from their bench of Nash, Peoples and Zeller.
Curry Held Scoreless: No, Loyola (MD) did not find some 11-foot behemoth with a dinosaur’s wingspan to cover Curry. Coach Jimmy Patsos, the always creative mind who decided to sit in the stands for the second half of his game against Cornell to avoid receiving another technical, decided to employ a plan that seems fairly obvious now that someone has finally thought of it: double-team Stephen Curry. Not your usual double team, though. Loyola literally drapped two defenders on Curry the entire game. For every single Davidson offensive possession, the Wildcats held a 4-to-3 advantage, meaning Andrew Lovedale, Bryant Barr, Aaron Bond and Will Archambault could have career nights. Curry: 0/3 FG, 0/1 3pt, 3 assists, 0 points. For a guy averaging about 35 points per game. Instead of forcing shots through a constant double team, he deferred to teammates. Which brings up the question: Can this guy do anything wrong?
Other Top 25 Action
- #1 North Carolina advanced to face Notre Dame after smoking Oregon 98-69. Hansbrough scored 16 points on 12/14 FT, making just two shots
- #4 Pittsburgh took care of a quality Belmont team 74-60. Scary note: DeJuan Blair didn’t play due to inflammation in his right knee
- #15 Marquette cruised 85-68 over Texas Southern with Jerel McNeal (20 points) and Lazar Hayward (18 and 9) leading the charge
- #18 Florida barely squeaked by Washington 86-84 with Nick Calathes picking up 21 points and dishing out 8 assists
- #22 Villanova dominated Monmouth 71-48 behind 18 points and five threes from Corey Stokes and Cunningham (9/17) with another good game
Games of Note: Arizona trailed pretty much the entire game against bottom-feeder WCC squad Santa Clara before pulling out a 69-66 victory in Athens, Georgia with Chase Budinger scoring 22 points; Virginia Commonwealth will need more than Eric Maynor to win the Colonial this season. His final line: 35 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 11/20 FG, 6/12 3pt, 7/9 FT, and besides some solid efforts from Larry Sanders, the depth just isn’t there. They lost a heartbreaker 93-90 in OT at 4-1 East Carolina; Indiana received another drubbing in Maui, losing by 26 to St. Joseph’s and allowing seven threes from Darrin Govins; You know the saying “fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice, shame on me?” Liberty defeated Virginia in Charlottesville 86-82 last night with Seth Curry dropping 26 points and averaging 21/6/4 this season. He’s playing at Liberty. What are these Virginia schools doing?!?!?! If there’s another Curry on the way, RECRUIT HIM; Saint Louis couldn’t build off their BC win and lost to Nebraska by 14 points, allowing the Huskers to shoot nearly 60%; Penn State with a decent win on the road vs. in-state rival Pennsylvania.
News And Notes
- Results from the punishments handed down on Indiana yesterday: Kelvin Sampson cannot coach in college for five years and Indiana received three years probation. This program should be slightly rejuvinated by a top ten recruiting class entering Bloomington next season. Be patient, Hoosier fans!
- Troubled Massachusetts guard Doug Wiggins has now been suspended indefinitely by coach Derek Kellogg after an arrest for breaking and entering. The incident occurred off campus in Amherst last weekend and wasn’t the first of such incidents for Wiggins, who left Connecticut over the summer after averaging nearly 7 PPG there as a reserve.
- Devestating news for St. John’s that broke a few days ago: Roger Mason, Jr, the best player on a St. John’s team looking to avoid the cellar in the Big East, tore a tendon in his right foot and will miss the rest of the season. This can’t be a good sign for either Norm Roberts job security or the chances the Johnnies had of avoiding another disappointing season. Mason led the team in scoring last season at 14.0 PPG.
- Some other quick injury news: UCLA dodged a bullet as forward Alfred Aboya’s left wrist appears to be okay and he should play in the Bruins next game; Southern Illinois wasn’t so lucky, losing their center Nick Evans for 4-6 weeks after breaking his wrist in the same game; impressive Xavier freshman guard Terrell Holloway will miss 2-3 weeks of action with a stress fracture in his left foot.
NW Wins Horse Trailer Player of the Day- Eric Maynor, VCU
On The Tube Today
- Alabama vs. Saint Joseph’s- 2pm (ESPN2)
- Texas vs. Oregon- 430pm (ESPN2)
- Boston College vs. Purdue- 7pm (ESPN2HD)
- Indiana vs. Chaminade- 7pm (ESPNU)
- Eastern Washington @ Minnesota- 830pm (BTN)
- Southern Methodist @ TCU- 830pm (MTN)
- UAB vs. Oklahoma- 915pm (ESPN2HD)
- Notre Dame vs. North Carolina- 10pm (ESPN)