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The C in CJ is for Consistent

Coming off that tough loss against Georgetown on Saturday, Syracuse traveled to Milwaukee on Monday to battle Marquette and try to right the ship. And largely, they did. The Orange looked better on offense in shooting better, looked better on defense by largely not giving up easy baskets and creating turnovers, and just looked way better than the effort we saw on Saturday. Yet, Syracuse still lost. The Orange carried a small lead into halftime and led for a good portion of the second half, but once they ceded the lead to Marquette with 5:05 to go, Syracuse would never again lead. The Golden Eagles go on to take this one 74-71.

  • It's been an up-and-down February for the Orange, and especially after this recent stretch with losses against UConn, Georgetown, and now Marquette, one has to take a step back and figure out where this team is going; what's wrong; and how to fix it.
  • Let's start with what's going right for Syracuse. His name is CJ Fair. He's been what's right for the Orange all season. He's a consistent scorer, he's a smart player, and he's the model for what the rest of the team needs to be. Monday night he put in a team-leading scoring effort of 20 points on 8-11 shooting (1-2 from three, 3-4 from the line). He also pulled down seven rebounds in playing the entire 40 minutes.
  • The rest of the team will have one or two other contributors step up for any given game, but it's always CJ there leading the way. And so, does this make him the vaunted go-to guy? Hard to say. Fair is good because he knows when to shoot and when to pass off to someone else. So if the go-to guy is expected to get the ball and score no matter what, then CJ isn't him. But who says Syracuse needs a go-to guy?
  • What Syracuse needs is smart players who can execute.
  • I do want to point out the good play of Baye Moussa Keita and Trevor Cooney from the Marquette game. Keita not only impressed on offense (seven points, four offensive rebounds), but he was solid on defense with four defensive rebounds, a block, and a steal. Cooney was only used for six minutes, but he was active with three points, an offensive rebound, and a couple assists.
  • Keita's game was possibly the best of his career in terms of overall performance. The box score isn't screaming great game, but his play under the basket on both ends of the court was quite good (Davante Gardner's play aside).
  • Cooney showed some other aspects of his game in rebounding and assisting that we usually don't see from him. With Brandon Triche playing as poorly as he was and Cooney looking good in those six minutes, I was hoping Jim Boeheim would swap them, but never did.
  • Triche continues his offensive woes. He's taking good shots and missing them, he's taking bad shots and missing them, and at the end of the day Syracuse just gets empty possessions. Triche had eight points and eight assists in 37 minutes. When you're going to get those minutes and you're the senior leader of the team, you gotta do better than that.
  • For Marquette, their big man Gardner killed Syracuse. He was their offensive go-to guy, knocking down a career-high 26 points on 7-7 shooting, and 12-13 from the line. This guy is a beast, plain and simple. Even when Syracuse tried to prevent him from getting good looks, he still hit his shots.
  • Much has been made about Boeheim keeping DaJuan Coleman on the bench in this game, despite him being medically cleared to play. The dominance of Gardner is Exhibit A there. Boeheim's response, to all us non-coaches, is that his two best defensive players were on the court. So for us non-coaches who wanted to see Coleman, who do you remove from the lineup? Keita stays in as far as I'm concerned; he was playing well. Southerland was trouble on defense, but does that outweigh the difference in offense with Coleman? Christmas? Bottom line is I tend to believe Boeheim; Coleman being in that game probably wasn't going to change the outcome.
  • But this all highlights a great point I saw in Brent Axe's recap that I've been noticing myself: Syracuse keeps letting one guy beat them. In four of Syracuse's losses, an opposing player has had a career day: Khalif Wyatt for Temple, Durran Hilliard for Villanova, Otto Porter for Georgetown, and Gardner for Marquette. It's gonna happen from time to time, but when you see the correlation with losses, it shows a team in Syracuse that can't make adjustments.
  • This game was Syracuse's final appearance on ESPN's Big Monday, unless the landscape is reconfigured in the future and ACC games enter that lineup.
With the loss against Georgetown and at Marquette, it seems Syracuse can't win the regular season Big East title. Just as well, I don't like that Thursday noon game during the Big East Tourney. So now Syracuse has a few days to recover, regroup, and try to find that magic they took with them to #1 Louisville to beat them. The Cardinals aren't #1 anymore, but they're coming into the Dome on Saturday for a big game that will have repercussions for each team's postseason positioning.

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