The Syracuse sweep through the BCA Invitational was made all that more impressive by their large margins of victory. The Orange won three games in three nights by an average of almost 22 points a game. They were particularly impressive in beating UPenn, a team likely to win the Ivy League and return to the NCAA tournament this year. Syracuse controlled the game almost from start to finish, winning by a 78-60 margin.
The key to the victory over the Quakers was good old-fashioned defense. SU forced 20 turnovers and held UPenn to under 40% shooting from the field. Boeheim's team played a lot of man to man defense in the first half, but fell back primarily into the zone in the second half. Considering that UPenn has only one true outside shooter in Ibrahim Jaaber, this turned out to be a very good move.
Another key to the victory over Penn was the keeping all-Ivy performers Jaaber and Mark Zoller in check. Jaaber was hot in the first half, scoring 12 points on 5-5 shooting, but the SU defenders did a great job of recognizing where he was against the zone and held him to only 6 second half points. Meanwhile, Zoller was limited to 11 points and 5 rebounds after he had torched UTEP for 23 and 12 just the day before.
Despite Saturday's big win, the Orange showed a bit of weakness on Sunday. After pulling ahead of UTEP by 20 points mid way through the second half, they gave up a 14-4 run late in the game to allow the Miners to close within 8 points. SU's inability to control the game was related entirely to its poor ballhandling.
SU has been very effective in scoring in transition this year, but they also seem to love to cough the ball up. Eric Devendorf, Demetris Nichols, and Josh Wright all turned the ball over during the two minute span that constituted UTEP's 14-4 run. Wright himself had two costly turnovers that led to a breakaway layup and an open three pointer. He redeemed himself somewhat by hitting two key free throws, but Boeheim seemed to have seen enough.
In a very telling sign, Boeheim removed Wright from the court for the game's final 1:16. His replacement, Paul Harris, nailed 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory for SU. Harris also got some help from Demetris Nichols, who hit 3 of 4 during this same timeframe.
Clearly the ballhandling remains a major concern for this team. Devendorf, Wright, and Harris combined to turn the ball over 14 times, with Wright leading the way with 6 miscues. This is an inexcusably large number for the three primary ballhandlers on the team. In total, the Orange have 58 turnovers - nearly 20 per contest!
Another weakness that the Orange(men) have shown is their inability to control the defensive glass. UTEP pulled down 20 offensive rebounds, and St. Francis and UPenn were not far behind at 17 and 13, respectively.
Terrence Roberts has been the team's strongest rebounder to date with an impressive 11 boards per game, but starters Demetris Nichols and Darryl Watkins seem to be rebounding below the level they showed last year. (In fairness to Watkins, his 4.7 rbg is somewhat skewed by missing most of the second half of yesterday's game with a broken nose). Both players will have to step up their game on the glass once Big East play begins.
On the positive side, the offensive balance has been a thing of beauty. The Orange landed 6 players in double figures on Sunday, 4 on Saturday, and 5 on Friday. Matt Gorman has been lighting it up off the bench with back-to-back 12-point games. Paul Harris has given the team double digits two nights in a row, and Eric Devendorf and Demetris Nichols have been the most consistent starters.
Whether this will hold up against tougher opponents remains to be seen, but even so, this is the most balance shown by an SU offense in many, many years. And this is without any major contributions from freshman Mike Jones and shooting guard Andy Rautins, both of who are capable of putting points on the board in a hurry.
All in all, the three game sweep was a major success. Most of the players look a little more comfortable in their roles, especially compared to the first exhibition game when it looked like Eric Devendorf and a cast of no-names. With Harris getting more comfortable off the bench, the Orange have a weapon unlike any other team in America. They just have to work on taking better care of the ball and dominating the defensive glass. If these two aspects can round into shape, look out.