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Yes, Baye, it's okay to smile before your first collegiate start!

First, let me apologize for the title of this post. It absolutely sucks. But, so does losing. So, you know what they say: garbage in, garbage out.
Now, onto the recap. Syracuse visited the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky for the first time, looking to avenge the last game played in Freedom Hall last year when the Cardinals beat the Orange. Unfortunately, the same bad luck Syracuse has had against Rick Pitino as of late show itself again on Saturday. Despite a strong comeback in the second half, Syracuse fell just short and lost to Louisville 73-69.
  • Baye Moussa Keita earned his first start, in place of Fab Melo who had not practiced this past week, evidently due to family issues. While we obviously wish the best for Fab & his family, this was a lineup change that was weeks in the making and I, for one, was glad to finally see Keita rewarded for his hard work.
  • Keita had an okay game in this one, pulling down seven rebounds and having one hell of an assist, in only 15 minutes of play. He was a rebounding monster for the first several minutes of the game, and then pretty much disappeared for the remainder of the game. Coach Boeheim decided to go with a smaller lineup, which accounts for Keita's lack of minutes.
  • Anytime your center can grab seven rebounds in only 15 minutes of play is a great thing. Ultimately, Keita only had one point, and it's his offensive game (or lack thereof) that will be his kryptonite as the season progresses. As the TV crew of Doris Burke and Dave Pasche said numerous times, the offensive improvement will have to come in the off-season.
  • Scoop had a bit of a comeback of his own in this game, with 20 points and four assists in 35 minutes. Also of note, he only had two turnovers. The 20 points came on 8 of 15 shooting, including 4-8 from three. Of course he had a few typical boneheaded plays, but this overall is the Scoop we need to see consistently in every game.
  • I think Scoop was able to play a better game because either Brandon Triche or Dion Waiters were handling the point guard duties, allowing Scoop to be the shooting guard. Take away the need to make decisions, and Scoop is a decent ball player.
  • Speaking of Triche, the tone of this recap would be markedly different had Triche not gone on a shooting tear in the second half. They seemed like pity points at the time, when he was hitting three after three, but his offensive contributions at that point allowed Syracuse to get back in this game after having a 10-point halftime deficit, and at one point being down by 20. Brandon finished the day with a team-high 21 points on 7-13 shooting (4-9 from three) in 35 minutes.
  • The rest of the starters: Rick Jackson with seven points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action, having not attempted a field goal in the first half; and Kris Joseph with nine points in 30 minutes. Lots of people are talking about Kris, and him not being the superstar we all expected him to be. I'll jump on the bandwagon. He was lackluster during most of the non-conference games, and I had hoped he was saving it all for Big East play. He did step things up in Big East; the only problem is that he's been very inconsistent. Sure, you're gonna have your good days and your bad days, but the good should far outnumber the bad for a player of Kris's caliber.
  • The Syracuse bench belongs to CJ Fair. No, that doesn't sound right, because he was on the floor more than he was on the bench. 33 minutes actually. More than two starters (Joseph & Keita). Point I'm trying to make is that CJ is a huge presence off the bench, and is certainly making the most of his minutes. Against the Cardinals, he dropped 11 points on 4-6 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds, had two steals, and a block. The kid is active on defense, positions himself well for rebounds, and offensively always finds himself around the basket and ready to lob the ball into the hoop. If I had to be nit-picky, I'd say he needs to get a little stronger to help him better finish around the basket -- so that those 2-shot fouls can be a basket +1 opportunity for the old-fashioned three point play.
  • James Southerland visited the court for eight minutes, and though he didn't score on either of his attempts, he did grab three rebounds, and had a steal and a block. Boeheim has to be happy that Southy tried to grab rebounds, and I think if he continues to work on that aspect of his game he can work his way back into the rotation as the season winds down, especially should Kris or Rick find themselves in foul trouble.
  • Finally, I'll mention Dion Waiters. If there was a non-factor player for the Orange in this game, Dion was him. In ten minutes off the bench, Dion had no points, no rebounds, no assists, and turned the ball over three times. While his presence allowed Scoop to not play the point, that's pretty much all you can say about Dion in this one. We look forward to seeing you on Monday.
  • Give it to Rick Pitino and what he has done with this team. For a squad that nobody thought had much going for them this year, they've become a hot-shooting Top-15 team and have the potential to make a run deep into the tournament.
  • The Cards' leading scorer was Kyle Kuric, who absolutely owned the area behind the arc. His 23 points were in large part from his 5-7 shooting from three. Right behind him was Preston Knowles with 22, including 7-12 from three. Rakeem Buckles in his return to action didn't score any points, but grabbed seven rebounds.
  • You want team comparisons? OK, I'll give them to you, but they won't make you happy. Overall shooting was 51.1% to 42.6%. The edge? Syracuse. Three point shooting was 48.1% to 45.0% with that edge going to the Cardinals. Rebounding? 33-30... Syracuse.
  • A bit demoralizing to see those stats and still hear that Syracuse lost. This obviously was a close game at the end, and a missed three here or there, or not coughing up the ball, or something tipping Syracuse's way could have changed the outcome.
  • What did not change the outcome was the officiating. Did we see some bad calls? Absolutely. We do in every game. This one saw a blatant miscall under the basket, where the initial ruling was a foul on the floor resulting in a one-and-one shooting opportunity for Louisville. Crew chief Brian O'Connell was then overruled by Roger Ayers, who claimed it was a shooting foul and thus, two shots. Replay after replay confirmed the foul on the floor, but the refs let it be a shooting foul. This point, ultimately, became moot when the shooter hit the first free throw (and subsequently the second), so even had it been a one-and-one, he would have had two shots.
  • This call didn't come without some arguing. Jim Boeheim let O'Connell know how he felt about the call. A temperate but animated Boeheim got right in the face of O'Connell, who was just as animated. To Jim's credit, he quickly put his hands behind his back so as to not make contact with the official. To O'Connell's credit, he let Boeheim have his say, and walked away without escalating the situation by calling a technical foul on the coach. Agree to disagree is the best case scenario there, and that's what we got.
  • The loss to the Cardinals now puts Syracuse at 20-6 overall (7-6 in the Big East). At least for the time being, that also puts the Orange in the bottom half of the Big East standings. It's not panic time yet, with five Big East games remaining, but we do not under any circumstances want to see this team playing in MSG on March 8. That's the Tuesday of championship week, if anyone was interested. Those Tuesday games are like the play-in games for the Big East tournament.
  • Those five remaining games are: West Virginia, Rutgers, at Villanova, at Georgetown, and DePaul. For momentum's sake, the next two home games against West Virginia and Rutgers are not only should-win games, but I'll go ahead and say must-win games. 22-6 (9-6) visiting The Pavilion at Villanova sounds much better than either of the alternatives. And even if (God forbid) Syracuse loses at Villanova and Georgetown, by winning the remaining home games (which should happen) Syracuse enters the BET at 23-8 (10-8) which, given recent struggles, we'll take.
  • Don't get me wrong, though. I'm still counting on a strong finish and a record of 25-6 (12-6) when all is said and done for the regular season.

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