After an amazing couple of games Syracuse has successfully gone from being on the bubble to being included in the field of 65 playing in March. There have been a lot of great moments and stories from the past few games as well. I’ll try to capture an adequate picture of the last two contests, while putting it into context for what this means for the Orange heading into Madison Square Garden.
First, we will journey back to Saturday afternoon in a cold but inviting city of Providence, Rhode Island. I decided on a whim on the previous Thursday to make the drive with my good friend Jimmy to Providence to see what promised to be a make-or-break game for either team. I was not disappointed.Andy Rautins had a career high game against Providence. He reminded me of Gerry McNamara hitting anything he threw from behind the arc, no matter how deep. In a game when we had a big lead and then let Herbert Hill own us, we played well and hit shots and free throws down the stretch. Something this team has not done well most of this season.
I’d never been to The Dunk before and it was a fun place to see a game. This game was even better because it was two Big East teams battling for a fairly important win. Neither teams would have been completely done with a loss, but it was pretty important. Syracuse managed to gut out a nice win down the stretch led by Rautins. Nichols and Watkins also played very well, with Watkins earning 11 points and 13 rebounds.
What Syracuse didn’t do so well was by all accounts what should have lost the game for us, as it has all season. The team had more turnovers (16 to 14) led by Devendorf’s six, were out rebounded, and shot worse from the free throw line. The difference was our field goad percentage, three point percentage, and hitting key shots when we needed to (Not getting called for a foul while Mookie slaps a guy in the face helps too. Thanks Timmy).
Then we come to Big Monday. It’s a pretty ominous task playing the first place team in the Big East, not to mention that it is your rival who happens to be ranked #10/9. Not to mention that Syracuse is still not considered an NCAA Tournament team yet. The team responded on Senior Night.
I’ll start with what Syracuse did poorly. The team was again out rebounded. When their dominant rebounder, Roy Hibbert, only plays 20 minutes I expect the team to get the rebounding edge. While we pulled down many rebounds at key moments, overall we did not pull down more than the other team.
Once again another poor night from the free throw line, only managing 60% (15-25). In the Big East tournament, as well as the NCAA Tournament, converting free throws are key to winning and/or staying ahead down the stretch. I hope the boys are practicing them this week because we need to be on the ball before arriving in NYC.
Everything else was as good as gold for the Orange. The key to Syracuse’s victory was the famed 2-3 Zone of Boeheim. The team didn’t allow free looks in the paint as they have before. They looked active, sharp, and moved cohesively as a unit, virtually rendering Hibbert a non-factor in this game. We held them to 58 points, which is over 10 points less than their season average of 68.6ppg. The defense was the difference and it was probably the best defense they have played all season. One of the keys to the NCAA, as well as the Big East Tournament is peaking at the right time in your season. I submit that we are peaking at the perfect time.
To borrow a popular Orange Blogisphere phrase, “I love me some Andy Rautins!” Once again the kid looked great out there. Leo who? Despite earlier criticism that he lacked a great shooting touch, he just got a scholarship because of his dad, and that he turned out to be a dud, Andy has turned out to be a quality addition to the Orange lineup. This backs up my earlier argument that we needed one additional outside shooting threat to allow Nichols to play his game and contribute consistently. Once again, I am awesome.
We limited our turnovers to 13, as compared to Georgetown’s 19. The key stat within the stat however is gaining 25 points off those G’Town turnovers. Money in the bucket.
Devendorf, despite several stupid turnovers and bad passes, decided to play excellent point guard finally. Gaining 11 assists, he managed to set up several shots for Nichols and Rautins, as well as orchestrate several fast breaks. Simply fun to watch.
Hero of the day is of course Demetris Nichols. 22 points, going 4-8 on 3 point field goals, and a solid case for Big East Player of the Year. I almost fell out of my chair when he hit the fade away three with about four minutes remaining in the game and one second on the shot clock. This is Syracuse Basketball that we all love and wish we could always see. Nichols deserved all the accolades he received last night as he put in a superior shooting effort on Senior Night. He will be missed.
I know many have debated the Court Storming point on this and other notebooks, therefore I am compelled to give my opinion on this. After all, it is my name to the right on this blog so I feel entitled. I am usually not one for court storming, but I have to say I am pretty alright with this one. As I explained to my friends last night, this was a huge game against the #10/9 team in the nation, who is first in the conference, a major rival, and if beaten will in all likelihood lock up an NCAA Tournament bid on Senior Night. Granted it fails the Matt Glaude test, but I’m willing to look the other way. I guess you can call this the dissenting opinion on the decision by the Chief Justice here at Orange::44. I submit that a balancing test is needed, rathr than the bright line rule established by Justice Glaude. Also, Matt, what is your criteria for storming the football field. And if there are any, are pants forbidden? “I’ve got to be on the field.”
All in all, a solid couple of basketball games for the Orange that all but has the entire city of Syracuse getting out their dancing shoes and catching March Madness. ESPN currently lists us as a possible 9 or 10 seed. Seth Davis at Sports Illustrated says we still need one more win to be in, and I hear Doug Gottlieb is in Bristol, CT crying his eyes out. Everyone agrees that our resume was vastly improved by the win over Georgetown. It was a pleasure to finally watch the Syracuse team that we were promised at the start of the year. Everything seems to be coming up Millhouse… or orange. Nichols should be player of the year and Boeheim should be back in the good graces of Orange Nation, because clearly good coaching is what got us to this point just as much as good shooting has. Their dancing in Syracuse… and Georgetown still sucks!