TEN THOUGHTS ON THE BIG EAST TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINALS
In only its second appearance in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, Rutgers (10-19, 2-14 Big East) was easily dispatched by Syracuse (25-6, 11-5 Big East) 81-57, at Madison Square Garden in New York City in a game that was close for four minutes. Coming out of the first TV timeout, Syracuse blitzed Rutgers 12-3 in about two minutes to take a commanding 22-10 lead. The Orange closed the 1st Half with an 18-3 run over the final seven minutes, including twelve consecutive points, to lead 47-22 at halftime. Using an 11-1 run, Rutgers narrowed the deficit to 17 points with eleven minutes remaining. However, the Orange answered with a 6-0 spurt on three consecutive possessions to quickly squash any hopes that Rutgers harbored. Here are ten thoughts on the BET quarterfinal game.
1. Orange PF Hakim Warrick. Warrick dominated the 1st Half while propelling Syracuse to a 47-22 halftime lead, during which he stuffed the stat box with a game's worth of production. He scored Syracuse's first eight points and scored the first seven points of Syracuse's 12-0 run. He scored from the low post. On dribble drives. Off offensive rebounds. He single-handedly outplayed the entire Rutgers starting five. Hakim scored 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the 1st Half. He finished with 23 points (8 of 14 FGAs and 7 of 7 FTAs) and 13 rebounds.
2. The Orange Press. Back in late January, Syracuse overcame an 18-point halftime deficit to Rutgers by unleashing a full-court press that forced Rutgers TOs and elevated the tempo to a pace more suited to the athletic Orangemen. Syracuse trimmed the deficit under 10 points in only a minute. I expected Syracuse to press Rutgers again in the Big East Tournament. But I didn't expect Syracuse to start the game with a press because Rutgers Head Coach Gary Waters likely would have his team prepared for the press. Also, Syracuse couldn't afford to expend too much energy pressing in the first of three games (hopefully) in three days. I expected Orange Head Coach Jim Boeheim to jab at Rutgers with the press. Hit Rutgers with it briefly and then pull it before the Scarlet Knights found an effective way to exploit the press. Then, hit ‘em again later. Boeheim sprung the press after the first TV timeout, with Syracuse leading 12-7. Rutgers broke the first press and nailed a 3-ball. Warrick scored on a putback. Rutgers then broke the press in its next three possessions but committed one TO and missed two quick shots. Syracuse scored in transition off each possession and blitzed Rutgers for eight points in about a minute. In the blink of an eye, the score was 22-10. Rutgers never threatened thereafter and Syracuse didn't need to press again. The tempo catalyzed by the press hurt Rutgers more than did the press itself.
3. Attacking the Orange Zone. Rutgers again failed to score 30 points in the 1st Half. The Scarlet Knights made only 23% of their FGAs (7 of 30). Rutgers scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the 1st Half. And only 12 points over the final 15 minutes. The Scarlet Knights shot only 36% in the 2nd Half. Rutgers struggled mightily against Syracuse's formidable 2-3 zone defense. The problems were two-fold. First, the Scarlet Knights often settled for poor shots instead of patiently working the Orange zone. More typically, Rutgers worked the Syracuse zone effectively but missed open shots. Generally, the Scarlet Knights played intelligently against the Syracuse zone. But they quickly lost their confidence and never recovered.
4. Defensive Schemes. Waters switched defense twice in an attempt to slow the Orange avalanche. Nothing worked. The Scarlet Knights opened the game in man-to-man defense with C Byron Joynes assigned to guard Warrick. Hakim used his vastly superior mobility to move without the ball and lose Joynes. The result was often an open path to the basket after a quick cut and catch. Followed by a resounding tomahawk dunk. Joynes could not cover Warrick beyond the low post. SF Marquis Webb couldn't cover Warrick inside. Waters briefly switched to a diamond-and-one zone with man-to-man defense on 3-point sniper PG Gerry McNamara. Waters eventually settled for a 2-3 zone. Nothing really worked as Syracuse shot 49% on FGAs.
5. Defensive Rebounding. Defensive rebounding has been a season-long problem for Rutgers. Especially in the zone defense. Syracuse forced Rutgers into its zone early in the game. The Orange found plenty of lanes in the zone that allowed them to work the offensive glass. Of 31 rebounds available on Rutgers' defensive glass, The Scarlet Knights collected only 17 rebounds to 14 for Syracuse. Byron Joynes single-handedly outrebounded his teammates on the defensive boards, 7-4 (the other six defensive rebounds were team rebounds, e.g., out of bounds off Syracuse). PF Ollie Bailey (24 minutes), backup PF Dan Waterstradt (17 minutes), backup C Jimmie Inglis (11 minutes), and backup PG Juel Wiggan (16 minutes) each did not have a single defensive rebound. SF Marquis Webb and SG Ricky Shields collected only one apiece. Orangemen SG Josh Pace (5), Warrick (3), and SF Terrence Roberts (2), and backup C Darryl Watkins (2) each had at least as many rebounds as any Scarlet Knight (other than Joynes) had defensive rebounds.
6. Orange PG Gerry McNamara. McNamara was a sniper. He scored 25 points on the equivalent of only 12 FGAs. That's over two points per shot attempt. Lethal. He made 6 of 8 3PAs and 7 of 7 FTAs. Gerry missed his only shot inside the 3-point arc. He nailed two transition 3-pints in Syracuse's early 10-0 run. He sank five FTs in the clinching 12-0 run. He was the perfect outside compliment to Warrick's inside dominance.
7. 3 Point Shooting. Rutgers buried the Syracuse zone in a flurry of 3-balls at the RAC in January. The Scarlet Knights needed accurate deep shooting to force Syracuse to extend its 2-3 zone. Shields and SG Quincy Douby hit three treys in the first five minutes. They combined for three more over the final 35 minutes. Shields made 3 of 8 3PAs. Douby made 3 of 12. Webb was the only other Scarlet Knight to connect from the beyond the arc but he made only 2 of 7. For the game, Rutgers shot 29% on 3PAs. Many of the shots were wide open. The Scarlet Knights just couldn't find the range.
8. Backup PG Juel Wiggan. Juel had a solid performance in his final game. Again, he was forced to play outside his limits because too many others were struggling. He scored 7 points (on 3 of 8 FGAs and 1 of 1 FTA) in only 16 minutes. He was the only Scarlet Knight guard who successfully attacked the seams in the Orange zone with dribble penetration.
9. Backup PF Dan Waterstradt. Waterstradt saw considerable action against Syracuse. He played 17 minutes behind Bailey. He manned the high post against the Syracuse zone and passed effectively from the middle. He scored 4 points (2 of 5 FGAs) and grabbed three offensive rebounds. However, his mid-range jumper was ineffective and his defensive rebounding was weak. Danny must improve in both areas if he is going to be a contributor next season.
10. Backup SG Manny Quezada. In a game that was over well before halftime, Manny played a whopping total of four minutes. I don't understand Waters' rotation. Why isn't Quezada playing in extended garbage time? Is Quezada already gone? Is that why he isn't playing in a blowout? After having played his best game of the season against Syracuse in January?
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