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Virginia - Syracuse Preview

Syracuse students agree: Thanks for all the work Rakeem.
The time for the final home game has come. Senior Rakeem Christmas (and walk on senior Carter Sanderson) is playing his final home game in the Carrier Dome. Always a bitter sweet night, who always want to leave on a good note. With no postseason ahead for the Orange, this will be the last time Christmas will wear the home whites of Syracuse in his college career. And a great career it has been, capped off by an All-ACC year. Looking to the game, Syracuse will have its hands full against #2. The simple fact of the matter is that Virginia has the best defense in the ACC. Defense wins championships, as you know. And while Virginia's biggest offensive star is out injured, and another one is playing with a broken nose, you can reliably get solid contributions from all the players, making it a true team effort on offense for the Cavaliers. Despite what should be a big night for Christmas, and probably even Cooney or Gbinije, Kaleb Joseph will probably be flustered by the tough defense of Virginia, and to a lesser extent Patterson or Roberson. I just see this Syracuse team creating turnovers or just not getting the biscuit in the basket even with quality looks, except for Christmas. The Virginia defense will just end up too tough for Syracuse to withstand, even if Syracuse creates a Virginia offensive drought. An unfortunate way to go out but they can't all be wins. But that won't take away from what Christmas has accomplished or the potential at the next level. We here at Orange::44 wish him the very best. Tonight isn't the night for the true Orange though. UVA by 14. This game will be available nationally on ESPN  at 7:00pm. John will be in the Dome. I'll be on the couch. Let's finish this home season right.

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Syracuse - Duke Postgame Reactions OR Perspective

Orange::44 -- bringing you inside the huddle

Last year, a much better and much deeper Syracuse team kept things close and interesting while playing Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. This year, reasonable expectations would dictate otherwise. Despite its loss of talent and short bench, Syracuse has played its heart out as of late, particularly against good, top ranked teams; so I think we expected to see that type of effort Saturday night, but didn't exactly expect a win. Unfortunately, we didn't really see that effort; instead, we saw one of the worst games of the season for Syracuse. The Blue Devils were too much, beating Syracuse 73-54.

  • My statistical recap will be abbreviated, in lieu of my personal observations from Cameron.
  • I guess player of the game goes to Tyler Roberson. He led the Orange with 16 points on 5-9 shooting, 6-7 from the line, nine rebounds, and a couple assists in 38 minutes on the floor. He was able to exploit Duke's added pressure on Rakeem Christmas by hitting open mid-range jumpers and driving to the baskets.
  • Trevor Cooney (13), Michael Gbinije (12), and Rakeem Christmas (11) were the other double digit scorers for the Orange. Considering the only other scorer was Ron Patterson's deuce, you can tell how offensively challenged Syracuse was.
  • Honestly, it was a decent start to the game, with Syracuse hanging with Duke for the first ten minutes. Then Duke gradually pulled away and, as of 9:45 to go in the first, never relinquished the lead.
  • Syracuse shot 30.6% in the game, and a putrid 3-20 (15%) from three. As Coach Boeheim noted, you can't put up numbers like that and expect to beat a team like Duke at Duke.
  • Duke, meanwhile, shot 48.3% in the game, 34.8% from three, and simply dominated where they needed to dominate: 38 points in the paint, 17 points off 15 Syracuse turnovers, and 16 second chance points.
I was lucky enough, thanks to my cousin Shawn who obtained tickets through a golf contact, to attend the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and sit in Row F behind the Syracuse bench (oh, and the Syracuse bench is considered Row A). I was in the company of Daryl Gross, Katie McNamara, and close enough to essentially be in the team time-out huddles (though, as close as I was, I still couldn't hear anything Boeheim said). Since you're reading this, I assume you're a college basketball fan; go to Cameron Indoor. Put it on your bucket list. For as great a college basketball environment the Carrier Dome can be, Cameron is just as good (in a different way, though).

Cameron is small; its capacity is just over 9500. There's not a bad seat in the place; even the "nosebleeds" aren't that far away. In fact, the TV cameras are in the rafters; all other seats are closer than the cameras. They cram in as many seats as possible; the entire lower bowl is benches -- opposite the team benches is where the undergraduate seating is, where they cram in as many students as possible. More student seating is on each baseline and a little bit on the team bench sideline. And the students bring it. The band plays great music, and gets to play a lot. There's great interaction with all the fans in the arena. Because the place is so small and fans are really crammed in there, it's loud. Like, Boeheim was ten feet away from me the whole game and never once did I hear a word he said.

At Syracuse, I spent five years in the Sour Sitrus Society and one year in the student section, so I had six years about 40-50 feet behind the basket. So that's one perspective. Since then, I've been in my season tickets in section 309, which is right behind the Syracuse bench, but in the third tier about five rows from the top. At times, I've sat in various other seats in the Dome (or at Tourney games), but never five rows in back of the bench. That's a unique perspective.

From that perspective, I noticed a different Syracuse team. Rakeem Christmas is a workhorse. Yeah, we knew that, but the jockeying for position seems so much more intense from that perspective. On the flipside, Kaleb Joseph is a freshman. There's two games left, but he's still a freshman. He seems hesitant, he gets those big "deer caught in headlights" eyes quite often during the game, and if you're underwhelmed watching him on TV, I can't even describe how it is in person up close like that. Boeheim was asked what he saw from Joseph to take him out of the game. Boeheim's response: "Nothing." That says it all. I really hope he learns over the summer, or else we're in trouble at the point guard position.

Many of the shots that Cooney, Gbinije, and Johnson put up I knew weren't going in -- you could tell right off the fingers. Most of them missed, badly.

Oddly enough, the court and the spacing between the players seems so much smaller when you sit right behind the bench. Maybe I've gotten used to the "big picture" perspective from TV and from 309.

Cameron Indoor Stadium is a mecca for college basketball. Attached is a Duke Hall of Fame, featuring a history of the program, conference and national championship trophies, and features from the women's team as well as all other sports. I know Syracuse has its Hall at Manley/Melo Center (or thereabouts, who knows where stuff is now?), but I thought it was great having it attached to the place the games are played -- and it's open to the public even if you don't have tickets to the game. The concourses at Cameron are big enough for the capacity it sees. To get to and from the lower level seats, you enter from the baseline tunnel, AND WALK ON THE COURT. Yeah. Coach K Court. The general public walks on it. Crazy. At your seats on the lower level, there's very little leg room, you have to sit on your coat (if you bring it), and it gets quite warm. But it's an experience you walk away from smiling, even when your team loses. (I'll note that if you have upper level seating, you have an actual seat).

Looking around Cameron on Saturday night, it was, as expected, a sea of blue. Near and in front of me, I obviously saw the highest concentration of orange. Throughout the stadium, there was a smattering of orange -- a couple people together here and there. It was nice to see. The Blue Devil fans there were surprisingly polite and accommodating. Not once was I heckled or given any grief. It was the perfect mix of southern hospitality and respect for the game. Duke fans, you were great.

So yeah, I get it. I get how special Duke is, and how special Cameron Indoor Stadium is, and why these fans love everything about this school and this team so much. I probably take for granted how special of a thing we have at Syracuse and at the Carrier Dome, because I'm there so much. Maybe my experience at Duke can help me appreciate Syracuse more. Physically, they're opposite structures. But inside, both buildings can bring out the passion of college basketball fans in ways that I think very few venues across the country can.

In short, put Cameron Indoor Stadium on your bucket list.

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Syracuse - Duke Preview

 Syracuse students agree: Syracuse just needs to try.
Another trip to Durham. The last one ended so well. Legendary I would say. CJ Fair was called for an offensive foul (STILL NO), Jim Boeheim reacted accordingly, and was thrown out for the first time in his career. This was after the legendary OT game in the Dome earlier. This year, Syracuse played hard and had a halftime lead, but Duke ended up winning in the Dome by eight only a couple weeks ago. The prime matchup in the game is the Centers again. Rakeem Christmas versus Jahlil Okafor. Okafor earned 23 in the first match and Christmas only had 11. The big players in the game for Syracuse were Gbinije and Roberson of all people. I'm sure Duke will do the same strategy and double and triple Christmas. Gbinije should have another good outing. Cooney had a quiet 11 in the first game and I think Syracuse will have another game about the same. It will be close, especially at the half, but unless Duke slumps and Syracuse keeps scoring, it will end up about the same. Duke over the Orange by 9. Beat the spread! John is actually in Cameron for this affair so look for special updates from him tonight. As for me, I'm off the grid for this one and will be catching up on DVR later. Enjoy. Another upset would be fantastic. Especially for John's sake.

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This is calmer than I would have been at that 5th Christmas foul.
Well I didn't think they would do it. After beating #12 but then losing to Pittsburgh at home I didn't think that Syracuse could go on the road and beat #9 Notre Dame. But they did. Trevor Cooney hit some unbelievable shots, and BJ Johnson came off the bench and had a day! Syracuse beat the Irish 65 to 60.
  • BJ Johnson led all scorers with 19 points on 7-13, 2-6 shooting. He was also 3-3 from the free throw line. Easily his best game of the season and he single-handedly outscored the one player from ND that scored off the bench 19-16.
  • Trevor Cooney didn't have the best night, going 5-11, 1-6, but the shots he hit down the stretch were astounding and clutch and kept Syracuse in the game and allowed them to win it. He finished with 11 points.
  • Rakeem Christmas didn't have the best game, but he did have a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Michael Gbinije also didn't have the best game, but he did add 12 points, five rebounds, and six steals.
  • Ron Patterson earned six points, but had some really dumb plays. Pretty typical Patterson outing.
  • Mike Brey just has no idea how to beat a 2-3 Zone other than shoot over it. And normally ND is great at that, leading the ACC. but they were 3-22 (13.6%) which I have to imagine was a season low.
  • The 5th foul on Christmas was ridiculous. Enough said.
Syracuse earned their 2nd Top 25 win of the year, and beat a top ten team on the road. Pretty good. Syracuse has also beaten Notre Dame six out of the last seven times. Syracuse now has to play Duke in Durham. No tomorrow so Syracuse should keep putting up a good fight. The first game was actually pretty entertaining. But as for this game, beating Notre Dame is always fun, but to beat them as a Top Ten at home, now that's magic.

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Syracuse - Notre Dame Preview

Syracuse students agree: Mike Brey just gets lucky sometimes.
I've never held Mike Brey in much regard. I think he's failed upwards and anytime he's won at Notre Dame it's because he's been a good recruiter and the players do the work, not because he knows much about actually coaching basketball. He's never gotten Notre Dame past the Sweet 16 and he's only been there once since the 2000-2001 season. He's failed to make the NCAA's five times in those years. But he's got another good team this year. Apparently Jerian Grant learned to do school work or something because after being thrown out of school last year, he's back and having a hell of a season this year. Brother to Jerami Grant, he could very well win ACC PoY. He's averaging 17 points. Pat Connaughton is a pretty good low post player, but he got demolished last year against Syracuse. I'm not sure he'll be able to handle Christmas this year. But the Notre Dame offence is way more equipped than Syracuse. They have only lost in the ACC to Virginia and Duke at Duke after beating them at home, and on loss to Pitt in which they probably just took the night off. Notre Dame makes and takes the most three point buckets in the ACC. Unless they have a very off night, that's mostly what they'll do tonight, and seeing as Brey isn't creative enough to beat the zone any other way, that's what they will do. And they'll probably make a bunch. It's not rocket science, but then again Mike Brey couldn't do rocket science. He'll just send his shooters out there to shoot and they make a bunch and that will be enough to get past this Syracuse squad. Especially with Cooney being injured / in a slump / not great at basketball. You decide which applies. The Irish over the Orange by 14. This game is available on the ACC Network tonight at 8:00pm. But it isn't available most places. Check your list of stations here. For those not on the list, you'll be watching over the internet like me with horrible delays on WatchESPN. Blackout map here. Enjoy! Or you probably won't.

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Yeah, we all saw it Jim.
Pittsburgh came to town. Syracuse was fresh off their upset of Louisville. Syracuse only lost by six at Pittsburgh, so Syracuse had a shot in the Dome. Unfortunately Pittsburgh outlasted Syracuse by four points, 65-61.
  • Rakeem Christmas got back to his scoring ways, with Pittsburgh unable to contain him even with double teams. He was 8-14 shooting and 4-8 from the line. He finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks. He also didn't have a foul in the first half.
  • Michael Gbiinje had a pretty good game, earning 12 points on 3-8 shooting, but he was 6-8 from the line. He also had seven rebounds and six assists.
  • Syracuse's bench actually outscored Pitt's. Johnson and Patterson combined for 20 points. Pitt's bench only had 19. That's something.
  • Trevor Cooney's back maybe was hurting, but despite being a good defender he was a zero on offense in this game, which was probably the difference in who won and lost. He was 0-5, 0-4 on shooting.
  • Syracus was able to limit Sheldon Jeter to only six points. He torched SU in the Pete in the earlier game.
  • The probably with Pittsburgh is they can box out more, but despite one play where Syracuse had six missed shots and six offensive rebounds, Syracuse actually outrebounded Pitt 35 to 22. However, Syracuse was unable to convert that to more points for them and less for Pittsburgh.
  • We all saw there was questionable officiating down the stretch of this game. Starting with an illegal screen called on Christmas about 35 feet from the basket. Both teams made about 30 screens in the game and about the same way, but they weren't determined to be illegal by Referee Tim Nestor. Roger Ayers, who is usually a pretty good official, and who Syracuse had seen four other times this year (tied for most with 5), missed about five extra steps for Pittsburgh late in the game, and maybe a foot on the line. Missing travels that blatant is inexcusable for a Division 1, major conference official.
Syracuse now plays on, trying to take on Notre Dame in South Bend. That will go smashing I'm sure. Either way, it will be fun to see Christmas try and spoil a seed for the Irish.

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Pittsburgh - Syracuse Preview

Syracuse students agree: Beating Pitt in the Dome is niiiiiiice.
Here we are again. This time Pittsburgh makes the six hour (they probably didn't drive) trip to the Dome to take on the Orange, fresh off their biggest win of the season against #12 Louisville. Gbinije has been outstanding and will probably continue to be. Two factors will play into whether Syracuse prevails or not. If Syracuse can stop Sheldon Jeter, who tore Syracuse up in the Pete, and if Cooney can contribute. Syracuse had enough going on that even though Cooney was laying duds all night on Wednesday against Louisville they could still prevail. Not the case tonight strangely enough. Pitt has two many weapons and shoots the three better than Louisville for that to happen. So Syracuse needs a strong performance from Cooney and/or anyone else. Because even though Christmas and Gbinije each had a game high 23 against Pitt, it wasn't enough. Cooney only added 12 and Syracuse lost by six. Not to mention the fact that Jamel Artis is a stud when he gets close to the basket. Defense is the key to this game. If Syracuse plays good defense and they do just what they have been doing on offense, like how the defense played against Louisville, they have a shot. Again, the difference being Pitt is a much better perimeter shooter. So we'll see how that plays out. Either way, I like Syracuse's chances all things considered, only because this game is in the Dome. The real difference the last game was it was in the Pete. Not the case tonight. I think Pitt misses some of those makes they had down the stretch in the last game, as well as the fact that Syracuse is playing much better defense now, even though the Pitt game wasn't that long ago. Something has changed and the young kids are understanding the 2-3 better and rotating more. So if the hands are up on shooters and they aren't fooled by collapsing too much to the paint when a Pitt player has it inside, Syracuse has a good chance in this game. I'm picking the Orange at home by five. This game is available regionally on the ACC Network at 12:00pm. The list if affiliates is here. If you can't see it on TV, WatchESPN is available. Check the blackout map here. John will be in the Dome. I'm in the home office. Let's do this. Shit on Pitt!

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One of many for Rak

A lot of the talk among Orange fans since the self-imposed postseason ban was announced has centered around the need for Syracuse to pick up a marquee win -- a win over a ranked opponent. Obviously, a win last Saturday with Duke visiting the Dome would have undoubtedly fit the bill. Unfortunately, as we all know, that effort fell short. So, the next opportunity was Wednesday night, with Rick Pitino's 10th-ranked Louisville Cardinals coming to town. While the Cards held a halftime lead, the Syracuse defense clamped down in the second half, and Rakeem Christmas simply took over, and led Syracuse to a 69-59 victory.

  • The aforementioned Rakeem Christmas not only led his team to the marquee win it was looking for, but had probably the marquee game of his career. The way he just dominated in the second half, after having been used and abused by several big men down low over the last several games, was simply stunning. And he has the stat line to back it up: 9-10 from the floor and 11-13 from the foul line for 29 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.
  • Michael Gbinije had another great game we've come to expect from him at this point: 5-10 (including 3-6 from three) for 18 points, which also includes an impressive 5-6 from the foul line. That improvement alone is worth a gold star. Running a large portion of the game from the point, Gbinije also dished out six assists.
  • While Tyler Roberson had another solid game with thirteen points, Trevor Cooney, well, didn't. Boeheim called it possibly his worst shooting performance since he's been here, mainly because most of the shots he missed were wide open. Cooney was 1-10 from the field -- one made three, one missed runner, and eight missed threes. So, not good.
  • How many points from the bench? Why, none, of course. Ron Patterson wasted 12 minutes on the floor. His defense sucks, he can't hit a shot, and he can't penetrate. He's just not ready for big time action.
  • Boeheim credits the stronger defensive effort in the second half, but you can't argue with the better offense as well: 39.29% in the first half, to 57.89% in the second. On the other hand, Louisville was 53.85% in the first, and 32.14% in the second. So, a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.
  • For as dominating Wayne Blackshear has been for Louisville for so long, here's the game he had against Syracuse: 0 points, 0 rebounds, two turnovers, and a five-foul disqualification in 19 minutes. Thanks for coming.
So this ended up being a great game and a great experience. It was my Dad's first SU basketball game. And it was a great birthday present for me (reminded me of 2006 when Syracuse beat Louisville in the Dome for College Gameday). And now, a couple days off for the team until welcoming Pittsburgh back to the Dome. Hopefully there's no let down.

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