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Orange::44 Bracket Extravaganza 2015!

Another year, another edition of the best sports tournament in America.
It's the time again where we here at Orange::44 post our brackets for the world to see, judge, or tear apart. Both John and I only fill out one bracket a year and these are it for this year. Coincidentally and independently, both John and I have Kentucky over Duke for the National Championship with the score being 78-74. Insanity. How did that happen? We're good friends but not THAT good. Either way, you can enjoy my bracket above (with brief commentar), and John's below. Click to enlarge of course.


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Syracuse - NC State Preview

Syracuse students agree: A win would be really, really nice.
So the hammer dropped yesterday. We knew something was coming, which is fine and valid. But the NCAA smacked Syracuse around. And for an NCAA report that actually cleared Boeheim from a lot of wrongdoing, because he's the man in charge of the team a lot of the weight fell on him. Amid all that, the team now plays their last game of the season at NC State. NC State who is very much on the bubble needs a win. Syracuse has no tomorrow. Rakeem Christmas will be the best big man in the game. Unfortunately, NC State will probably put 2-4 players on him to guard him, and unless Syracuse can hit some jump shots (of which over the last few games SU has been the worst in the league) they will lose their final game. The key for Syracuse is to feed Christmas and hope he can pass it out to a cutter or a shooter. And those shooters better be hot, because otherwise it's not looking good. In a fitting end to this season, I'll say the Wolfpack win by 12. This game is available nationally on CBS at 12:00pm. I'll be watching. With a heavy heart, but I'll be watching. John too. And we both hope you have a great weekend.

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Virginia - Syracuse Postgame Reactions OR Dome Closer

Rak walks off the home court one last time

After traveling to Durham for Saturday's game against #4 Duke, Syracuse had a quick turnaround Monday, facing #2 Virginia in the Carrier Dome. For as good as Syracuse's defense can be, everyone knew Virginia's was just dominant this season, and likely would be against Syracuse. It was an excruciating start: neither team scored until Rakeem Christmas hit two foul shots at 17:12, neither team scored a field goal until Tyler Roberson's layup at 14:35, and Virginia didn't scored until 11:42. In fact, Syracuse led as much as 13-2 as late as 6:06 remaining in the first half. And then it all escalated quickly. Virginia remembered how to score, and Syracuse forgot. The Cavs took a 23-20 lead into halftime, and just turned it on in the second half, to beat the Orange 59-47.

  • The leading scorer for Syracuse was... Trevor Cooney with 14 (5-12, 2-8 from three, 2-5 from the line). 
  • Tyler Roberson and Rakeem Christmas each scored ten. 
  • Not that Syracuse shot the ball well in this, because they didn't (38.3%), but rebounding was clearly the issue. Virginia out-rebounded the Orange 42-20. Virginia had 15 second-chance points, and 32 points in the paint.
  • Despite the slow start, Virginia ended the game shooting 46.2% -- but I guess when you're taking so many high percentage shots in the paint, your game total will look pretty good.
  • Chino Obokoh entered the game for Rakeem Christmas with one minute remaining in the game, so Rak could get a final standing ovation from the Carrier Dome crowd. It was obviously a frustrating moment for Rak, who didn't play his best game and would rather have walked off with a win.
  • For the first time this season, Kaleb Joseph did not start the game. In his place in the starting lineup was BJ Johnson, putting the point guard responsibilities on Michael Gbinije. It's clear Boeheim isn't happy with Joseph's play, effectively removing him from the Duke game and only playing him for three minutes against Virginia.
  • The move to point I think had a negative effect on Gbinije's offensive production -- he only scored eight points, despite taking eleven shots from the floor. While it's too early to say who will have ball-handling duties next season, what's clear is that Gbinije needs to be able to score the way he has for the majority of this season.
And so, the home slate ends. Props to SU Athletics for properly spelling Rak's name on his commemorative jersey & plaque, and for featuring him on the senior night game ticket. I guess they can get some things right. Syracuse closes out its regular season (and, indeed, its entire season) on Saturday at NC State.

As this recap is being composed on Friday, March 6, I'd be remiss to not at least briefly mention the report issued by the NCAA Committee on Infractions today. The COI found Syracuse committed a number of major infractions, and instituted sanctions including five years probation, a loss of three scholarships for each of four years, a nine-game suspension of Boeheim effective at the start of conference play next season, vacating of several program wins (exact number yet to be determined), and financial penalties (and acceptance of the school's self-imposed postseason ban for this year). I've read the entire 94-page report. Many of the violations are not in issue -- they were admitted by the University. But it's clear that the biggest disagreements between the school and the NCAA center around institutional control and extent of sanctions. The written response by the school, as well as individual responses from the chancellor, athletic director, board of trustees, and Boeheim, all seem to indicate that the University is all but certain to exercise its right to appeal the decision. And of course, after any appeals, this case will inevitably end up in court where, if precedent means anything (looking your way, Penn State), a settlement will result in a decrease in scholarship loss, a (partial) restoration of vacated wins, and a lessening of financial sanctions. But maybe we're getting way ahead of ourselves.

For as bad as we all think this is (and, yes, it's pretty bad), let's remember a few things. Syracuse faces no postseason bans other than this season. Syracuse retains its 2003 National Championship. Syracuse didn't get a death penalty. Even if the current sanctions stay in place, Syracuse can still put together phenomenal teams that can compete at the highest level. Syracuse can get through this.

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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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