I think the common notion going into this game was that Syracuse just wouldn't have what it would take to win against Michigan. Syracuse's youth, inexperience (especially in an environment like Crisler Center), offensive woes, and Michigan's ability would seem to be too much. But, of course, you still have to play the game. And though neither team played exceptionally well in the first half, Syracuse took a 31-29 lead into halftime and you wondered maybe, just maybe, Syracuse would be able to do what we didn't think it could do. After halftime, Michigan started to find its outside shot again and eventually took a ten-point lead with 7:08 left in the game. "There it is," we all thought. Then, somehow, Syracuse fought back. Trevor Cooney hit a couple clutch threes, Michael Gbinije stepped up, and Chris McCullough played with more swagger than a freshman, and by the 56-second mark, the game was tied. But then, some big freshman mistakes and untimely turnovers tipped the momentum back to the Wolverines and, as we all know by now, Michigan held on for a 68-65 win.
- Trevor Cooney led all Syracuse scorers with 18 points on 4-11 shooting (4-9 from three) and 4-4 from the line. Though he struggled at times -- particularly in the first half -- that didn't frustrate him or prevent him from continuing to chuck up shots when he got good looks.
- I want to say that a performance like this should do wonders for Cooney's confidence, but I don't think it works that way. I think he's either on or he's not; I don't think confidence is an issue. So Cooney's always gonna be an Orange wildcard this season... which, unfortunately, could make or break a game for this team.
- Rakeem Christmas scored 15 on 7-9 from the floor, and added six rebounds, a couple of blocks, and a steal. What's telling about his performance is that he picked up two early fouls in the game, Boeheim only took him out for a short time, and then he went back out there and essentially played the rest of the game, only picking up one more foul. Yes, his defensive aggressiveness suffered as a result of the potential foul trouble, but luckily the forward play, especially from Chris McCullough, helped cover the areas around the basket.
- Speaking of McCullough, how about this kid with a really nice double-double -- ten points, twelve rebounds, and 39 minutes played. He was responsible for a vital turnover with 15 seconds left, but definitely otherwise a big performance on a big stage for a freshman.
- I thought Kaleb Joseph made a lot of improvement in this game. Playing all 40 minutes, Joseph scored nine points and had seven rebounds, and seemed much more in control of the offense than I have seen him all season. Certainly a confidence booster for him. Well, except for the dribble off his foot with four seconds left, and the airballed three-pointer at the buzzer. But, hey, freshman.
- Gbinije had a solid game off the bench as the sixth man, with a nice ten points and solid defensive play.
- Syracuse was in this game in the first half because of an abysmal shooting effort from Michigan. The Wolverines shot 36.11% from the field in the first half, along with 17.65% from three. For a John Beilein coached team who knows how to exploit the zone and has some great three-point shooters, this was a pleasant surprise from the Orange perspective.
- Here's the stat that controlled the outcome of this game: Syracuse had 19 turnovers to Michigan's seven; Michigan scored 20 points off Syracuse turnovers, while Syracuse only scored seven off Michigan turnovers (all in the first half).
- Michigan is a good team, and a win is a win, but the Wolverines probably don't walk away from this game feeling really good about the win. In the final several sequences in the game, it seemed like Michigan was doing whatever it could to let Syracuse win. But for those freshman mistakes, I think Syracuse probably pulls it out. Michigan got lucky.
Our old friendTed Valentine officiated this game. Hey, it is what it is.
A loss is a loss, and there are no moral victories -- especially when a game we didn't think Syracuse could win turned into a game Syracuse almost won -- but this was an encouraging showing by the Orange. They're a work in progress, but it's nice to see a team improving and wondering where it can go as the season goes on... as opposed to, say, winning 25 straight games and then regressing for the rest of the season. It's still early in the season, and most of the remaining non-conference slate doesn't get easier, but at least as it looks right now there's reason to be optimistic.
And we'll bring that optimism into the Dome on Saturday to play our old friend and former Big East foes St. John's. Your perfect break from watching conference championship football all day.