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Orange::44 reporting directly from Pittsburgh
The 2011-2012 season for Syracuse Basketball has been one filled with much off-court drama, much on-court success, and a lot of heart skipping in each arena.  Thursday afternoon was no different for the Orange.  They entered the game without starting center Fab Melo, who's ineligible due to...something...which we may never know.  Could be academics, could be pot, could be anything.  Fact is, a "big" part of what has made Syracuse Syracuse this year is gone.  I suppose if you're gonna be faced with this situation in the NCAA Tournament, it might as well be as a #1 seed playing a #16 seed.  Get the kinks out before you play some "tougher competition."  Either UNC-Asheville was underseeded, or they played above their pay grade, but this ended up being a much closer game than it should have been.
Asheville put the pedal to the metal from the opening tip, and refused to let up.  Though they never gained a lead larger than seven, the Bulldogs dominated definitely the first half, and arguably, the game.  They hit their shots (lots of threes), played a zone that somehow baffled Syracuse, and hustled for every rebound and loose ball.  They were hungry, but not so humble.  They had nearly the entire arena on their side, trying to squeak out an unprecedented 16/1 upset in the Tourney.  The Bulldogs, however, were put down by a scrappy group of dudes wearing white jerseys.  The final from Pittsburgh in the Round of 64: Syracuse 72, Asheville 65.
  • Game ball goes to James Southerland, hands down.  Off the bench, James had 15 points on 6-8 shooting (3-5 from three) to be the team's leading scorer.  He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds (tied with Kris Joseph).
  • We knew James would get extended minutes at forward, with Rakeem Christmas getting the start at center and Baye Keita subbing in at the 5-spot.  He made the most of it, especially on a night when CJ Fair struggled.
  • CJ only scored three points, three rebounds, and dished out two assists in his 15 minutes of play.  The combination of him struggling and James dominating led to James's extended minutes and CJ's declined minutes.  CJ hasn't been the same since the regular season ended; he was sick for the Big East Tourney game against UConn last Thursday, and just hasn't seemed to have recovered.  It would be a huge boost to this team -- especially now without Fab -- to get the usual CJ production out of CJ.
  • Starting in Fab Melo's absence, Rakeem Christmas certainly held his own: six points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes of play.  Throw in a couple of blocks as well, and you gotta give Rak some credit.  Those numbers aren't much compared to a typical Fab night, but he's not Fab; he's a freshman; and he still made his presence known.  He's coming on a lot more lately (out of necessity) since losing his spot in the starting lineup, and it couldn't come at a better time.  The amount of confidence he must be gaining now will go a lot way for Rak, both for the rest of this Tourney run, and for his future at Syracuse.
  • Your double-digit Orangemen scorers: Southerland 15, Joseph 12 (3-10!), Dion Waiters 12 (4-9), and Scoop Jardine 11 (3-8).  Brandon Triche fell just short with 9 on 3-7 shooting.
  • The team couldn't rely on Brandon to cash in like he had at times in the Big East Tourney, but he still seemed to be playing with some swagger out there.  That needs to continue.  Plus, him scoring a lot would be nice.
  • Scoop is Scoop.  Scoop will always be Scoop.  You can't say Scoop being Scoop enough.  Because that's all you need to say when analyzing Scoop.  You have to take the good with the bad, and the bad with the good.  About midway through the second half when Syracuse was trading baskets & the lead with the Bulldogs, I noted that Syracuse was a different team with Scoop on the floor - and not for the better.  I'm glad by the end of the game, he had me singing a different tune!
  • Scoop stepped up at the end of the game.  The numbers don't necessarily show it -- other than from the free throw line where Scoop proved that when it mattered that he make a shot, he could -- but I really think the team looked to his leadership.  His attitude and support of his teammates is something that doesn't show up in the box score, but is immeasurable in its importance to this team.
  • Syracuse played like it had never seen full-court pressure before.  Damn good thing they saved some timeouts for the end of the game, because they needed them when they couldn't inbound after an Asheville basket.  Then if they could inbound the ball, they'd run this route where either Scoop or Triche -- whoever caught the inbound pass -- would curve back in toward the basket, get dangerously close to the baseline, and either dribble out of it or make a long pass upcourt and hope for the best.  Neither of these things seem advisable.  Hopefully there's a better gameplan for Saturday.
  • It seems like it has taken until 2012 for teams to realize that they can play zone against Syracuse -- if even ironically -- and have good results.  But here we are in 2012, and teams are playing zone against Syracuse.  More baffling, however, is the fact that Syracuse seems baffled by the zone!  I mean, it's not like they play against it in practice every day. It's not like they don't understand how that defense works.
  • And when you look at the times Syracuse actually penetrated that Asheville zone today, they usually got it to the basket and either scored with an and-one or missed with a shooting foul.  Either way, that's pretty good chances to score points.  So, you know, drive the lane and make something happen!
  • Pretty amazing how pro-Asheville the CONSOL Energy Center became early on in this one.  It was, of course, the combination of Kansas State fans (in all their purple gloriousness) who stayed after their game, rooting for a shot at the #16 seed, combined with everyone else, who just wanted to say "I was at the first ever 16/1 upset!"  That's a dubious distinction I wanted no part of, and I'm thankful it passed me by.
  • I also found it extremely shocking that people don't understand how timeouts work in college basketball.  This game may have been an anomoly where called timeouts and media timeouts happened to all happen within short times of each other, but I heard numerous people around me sitting in disbelief as to why there were so many timeouts bunched together.  "Didn't we just have a timeout?" was something I heard way too often.  Get a clue!
  • Not really game-related, but I have a few comments about the respective pep bands at this game.  Check out my twitter for those comments.  Let's just say, I'll never have the same appreciation for Katy Perry again.
Survive and advance.  It's the name of the game in the NCAA Tournament.  Thursday's victory earns Syracuse a place in Saturday's matchup against Kansas State.  It's a 12:15 tip, so get your Bloody Marys or Mimosas ready, take in some basketball, and then have the luck of the Irish with you as you celebrate the rest of St. Patrick's Day.  Check back here Friday night for a preview of the Kansas State game.  And as always, GO ORANGE!

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