10 THOUGHTS ON THE SYRACUSE GAME
Syracuse (15-5, 5-4) defeated Rutgers 63-61 Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome in what easily could have benefited a Coaches Against Blindness crusade. The game was painful to watch as neither team shot better than 40% FGAs. CLANG!!! Rutgers (13-8, 5-6) blew a rare opportunity to beat a vulnerable Syracuse team in the Carrier Dome. Instead, Rutgers spotted Syracuse the first half and didn't have enough firepower to overtake the Orangemen in the second half. Here are ten thoughts on the Syracuse game.
1. Golden Opportunity. Rutgers may never see a Syracuse team as vulnerable at the Carrier Dome as they saw Tuesday night. The Orangemen miss Carmelo Anthony, whose early departure to the NBA thinned an already thin Syracuse roster. Head Coach Jim Boeheim was blindsided by PG Billy Edelin's disappearance as Edelin again turned up AWOL. Boeheim had to adjust his game plan on the fly. He's getting minimal contributions from his freshmen. SG Jerry McNamara is banged up with a groin injury. And Boeheim has no bench. Boeheim had one legitimate scoring option last night – likely All Big East PF Hakim Warrick. The once formidable Orangemen mustered only 63 points on their home court and gave the Scarlet Knights a chance. But, faced with this opportunity, Rutgers displayed one of its worst offensive efforts of the season, shooting 29% from the field and 30% on 3PA. The Scarlet Knights scored only 23 points in the first half and were fortunate to trail by only 7 points at halftime. A 4.5-minute scoring drought in the second half wrecked Rutgers' comeback bid as a fast start disintegrated into a 34% shooting effort.
2. What's a zone, Coach? Syracuse played most of the game in its vaunted 2-3 zone. In the first half, the Scarlet Knights looked like they had never seen a 2-3 zone, much less knew how to attack one. The Scarlet Knights conceded the interior to Syracuse, rarely testing the Orange zone inside. Rutgers did not score inside in the first half other than on dribble penetration or putbacks of missed shots. Dribble penetration, the Knights most effective means of halfcourt scoring, was also minimal as Rutgers scored only 8 points off dribble penetration. Webb's high dribble and Douby's loose dribble – normally effective against man-to-man defenses – were not suited to direct dribble penetration against the Syracuse zone. And forget Ricky Shields, whose dribbling is simply awful against any defense. Instead, the Scarlet Knights passed the ball around the perimeter and hoisted long 3PAs. Rutgers attempted 14 3PAs and made only 4. The Knights looked completely befuddled by the Orange zone. Especially freshmen PG Maquis Webb and SG Quincy Douby. Brilliant preparation, Coach.
3. The High Post. Rutgers attacked the Syracuse zone perfectly to start the second half. The guards zipped crisp passes into the high post and the high post – usually PF Herve Lamizana – moved the ball quickly around the court, distorting the Syracuse zone and creating openings for the Knights to exploit. Rutgers' shot quality improved dramatically as players were able to square up and step into perimeter shots. Rutgers also got the ball inside more effectively. Passing through the high post is one of the obvious methods for attacking a 2-3 zone. Especially with a player of Herve's talents in the high post. Rutgers opened the second half with a 20-8 run, shooting 7 of 17. The 3-point shooting was still cold (2 of 8) although the shots were open. However, Rutgers scored on 5 of 9 FGAs inside the arc. Lamizana recorded his third foul at 11:20 and sat for 3 minutes. During that time, Rutgers' offense unraveled and Herve's return didn't remedy the situation as Rutgers made only one of 10 FGAs over a six-minute stretch. That drought enabled the Orangemen to regroup and regain a lead they wouldn't again relinquish.
4. Tap Dancing. SG Josh Pace may not be able to shoot. But he sure can tap dance. Was he once whistled for traveling on any of the countless pirouettes that he committed with the ball in the lane? Pace can't shoot from the perimeter. Like former Boston College player Ryan Sidney, Pace has to get close to the basket to score. But Pace is not nearly as strong as Sydney, who overpowered smaller guards. Pace drives into the lane, looking to put up short flip shots. However, once his penetration is stopped, his footwork is awful. His poor footwork caught my attention because, usually, if footwork looks funny, it's a traveling violation. Four times, the Knights blocked Pace's path to the basket on dribble penetration and Pace shuffled his feet while attempting to pass out of no-man's land. And was not once whistled for dragging his pivot foot while he twirled. Or just switched pivot feet. Syracuse scored 7 points off those possessions, including McNamara's 3-ball dagger that made gave Syracuse a late 57-52 lead. Another pirouette occurred on the sequence that ended when Warrick threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk on Syracuse's third offensive rebound of the possession. Pace's travel should have ended the possession on the first offensive rebound. How three refs can consistently miss shuffling by the guy with the ball is absolutely beyond me. What were the referees watching if not the ball?
5. Super Sub. Backup C Jeremy McNeil played only 17 minutes. Most of that occurred in the final 13 minutes after C Craig Forth picked up his fourth foul. McNeil's first half contribution was one blocked shot in about four minutes. In the second half, McNeil contributed 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and one steal. McNeil, who is foul prone, was whistled for "only" 3 fouls – all in the second half. His presence on the floor forced Rutgers Head Coach Gary Waters to play a bigger lineup (Sean Axani, Adrian Hill, and Herve) even though all three had foul trouble in the second half. McNeil's performance was enhanced by more poor officiating. Uncalled were three blatant fouls that McNeil committed. Twice, Axani took the ball to the rim on reverse layups, using the rim for protection against McNeil's shot-blocking ability. Twice McNeil jumped into Ax to block the shot because the rim prevented Jeremy from jumping vertically. Axani was being aggressive and smart, protecting the ball and drawing contact. Yet the referees chose to nullify his actions. Those fouls occurred at 11:00 and 8:00. At 5:00, McNeil made two FTs after a very questionable foul call against Axani on a putback by McNeil. Axani's foul alleged contact was far less than what he caught earlier from McNeil. Worse still, McNeil grabbed the offensive rebound after launching Herve, who had inside position, under the basket with a shove in the back. These three crucial plays resulted in a net swing of 4 fouls and 8 FTAs. In a two point game.
6. Reloading. For a team that usually recruits well and is coming off a national championship season, Syracuse really lacks depth and isn't getting much from their freshmen class. With Edelin gone and McNamara banged up, Syracuse really struggles to score. They could fade down the stretch and miss the NCAAs. Home games against Notre Dame and Villanova – both dangerous on the road – will be decisive. Only two Syracuse freshmen played meaningful minutes – SF Demetris Nichols and SF Terrence Roberts. SG Louie McCroskey was out of control during his five-minute appearance. C Daryl Watkins, who chose to attend Syracuse over Rutgers, did not play. Nichols' shooting was awful. But he contributed 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. All in the first half. Roberts played mostly in the second half because Nichols was in foul trouble. Roberts contributed 4 points, 3 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 block, and 1 steal. And really gave Syracuse a burst of energy. Both did a good job as role players. That's a pretty nice combined stat line for 42 minutes.
7. The Second Coming. The rumblings first started last season, after SG Ricky Shields developed a habit for disappearing for long stretches during games. As did former Scarlet Knight Jeff Greer. However, these absences were understandable given the monopolization of the ball and the shots by the Paul Robeson Show. This year was supposed to be Shields' breakout year. And, while Shields is averaging 15 points per game, he has not provided the consistency needed to hold together a young team. Shields is hot-and-cold from game-to-game and even within games. Shields had another Greer-likes performance against Syracuse. Ricky scored nine points in the opening 3.5 minutes on three consecutive deep 3-balls but went scoreless the remainder of the first half. . Syracuse extended its zone and Shields kept launching 3PAs – without success. Shields also tested the middle of the Syracuse zone but missed four FGAs inside the arc. Shields kept bombing away in the second half, attempting 9 more 3PAs. All but two of his 20 points were on 3-balls. That is way too one-dimensional.
8. Too Unselfish. Webb had another nice, solid, all-around game. Marquis scored 11 points on 3 of 6 FGAs, 3 of 5 3PAs, and 2 of 2 FTs. On a night when many of his teammates couldn't find the basket, his unselfishness was detrimental to the team. Webb really needs to start shooting more. Especially when either Shields, Herve, or Douby are struggling. Shields and Herve combined to shoot 11 of 35 FGAs. Webb took only six shots. Shoot the ball, Marquis.
9. Dribble Penetration. Backup PG Juel Wiggan attacked the Syracuse zone better than any other Scarlet Knight. He had 4 assists, many off of dribble penetration. His one basket was a mid-range jumper off dribble penetration, as were his three FTs. However, Wiggan was 1 of 4 on FGAs and 0 of 3 on 3PAs. Two of his three 3PAs were ugly but the third went in-and-out. Wiggan still doesn't have a good perimeter jump shot. But he needs to take the 3PAs if he's open. What Waters definitely does not need out of Wiggan is 0-9 performances like he had against the Hall. He shouldn't be taking that many shots unless he's scoring.
10. Defensive Rebounding. Rutgers did a poor job on the defensive boards. Again. Syracuse grabbed 17 of 41 rebounds available on Rutgers' defensive glass. Though Syracuse had fewer offensive rebounding opportunities than did Rutgers, the Orangemen outrebounded the Knights 17-16 on the offensive boards. Syracuse outscored Rutgers 14-13 in second chance points. That was the difference in the game. Especially in the second half. Syracuse obtained extra scoring opportunities and capitalized upon these opportunities to keep Rutgers at bay.
I'm normally not one to complain about the refs. Usually, the team who wins deserves to win. And aggressiveness – offensively or defensively – usually explains a foul discrepancy. And Rutgers got away with some stuff, too, so it wasn't completely one-sided. But, on the whole, the defending national champions received some home cooking from the referees. Sure, Rutgers was awful in the first half. But the deficit wasn't insurmountable. The problem is that the referees nullified Rutgers' more aggressive play in the second half.
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