The pollsters weren’t in a holiday mood this Monday, knocking SU well out of striking range of the top 10 in both polls, despite our seemingly momentous victory in Memphis. So much for the concept of ‘what have you done for me lately.’ I would have thought the win over the Tigers would weigh more heavily in the minds of voters than the miracle Cleveland State loss, given that it was more recent and on national TV. But the doubters and the haters won the day. I find our excessive decline especially odd given that a drop to 14th/17th is about what I would have expected had the Memphis game never existed (as if our only weekly event was the loss and the Canisius win). It’s like no one saw the game in Tennessee. Very strange — especially given that Memphis remains ranked in the Coaches poll. If we beat them, why did we drop more precipitously than they? I feed off this kind of disrespect.
In other news, we handled Coppin State on Monday in a game that was strangely close yet never hair-raising or in serious doubt. SU went with the offense-only strategy against the overmatched Eagles, and it sufficed. The headlines about the game all got the story right: there’s no point in pretending the major news is anything other than Andy Rautins’ spectacular display. Normally I look for the subtle development or the item of overlooked importance, but Andy stole the show at every level. It was fun to watch, and even more fun to think about how his emergence could positively impact the remainder of the season. Given Devo’s indefinite absence (I refuse to believe he’ll be back after just a few games until I actually see him on the court), Rautins’ performance could not have been a more welcome sight. When Andy’s draining threes he changes everything for our offensive sets. And when he’s on point like he was against Coppin, he’s one of the most dangerous weapons in the Big East, if not the country.
Case in point: more than a few times against Coppin Rautins caught the ball in shooting position and then executed a picture perfect assist to an inside man as the defense was rushing out to him. When his shot is on it impacts the entire defensive philosophy of the opponent, knocks them off their defensive rhythm, and creates space that would not otherwise be there as defenders react to him outside of their normal comfort zone. Andy showed on Monday that he is capable of quickly recognizing these opportunities when they present themselves, and delivering passes inside for easy layups in one smooth motion after receiving the ball. Coach Boeheim went out of his way in the post game press conference to insist that Andy is not going to find himself as open against Big East teams as he was against Coppin St. True. However, I would argue that those assist opportunities will still be there when those Big East teams are flashing out at him, as long as he can recognize them quickly and act decisively. He ended up with 6 assists against the Eagles, a fine total for a two guard. However, because he’s Andy Rautins, he also handed out 4 turnovers. You take the good with the bad.
The other interesting assist result from the Coppin State game was Rick Jackson’s 3 dimes. Not a huge number, but large perhaps for a center — and indeed a season high for Rick. What’s significant about Rick’s passing is how playing alongside Arinze is changing his positioning on the court and asking different things of him. As the power forward Rick found himself with the ball more than a few times just a little beyond the free throw line, in the notorious no-man’s land of zone defenses. We’re not used to seeing Rick ever touch the ball outside of the 8-10 foot range, and he’s not used to having it there. It’s not a place from which he can start to post someone up, he’s certainly not going to shoot it from there, and at this point no one wants him to start dribbling. However, he showed some interesting signs of being adept at feeding other big men inside or hitting cutters from that position. In other words, acting as an ideal zone buster (Jim Calhoun would have appreciated a few of his passes). His 3 assists probably could have been 5 or more if not for Paul Harris failing to catch at least one zinger and a couple other passes that resulted in drawn fouls. I liked the potential, although granted it was against a slow, short, and uninspired Coppin State defense. But perhaps by next year or late this year Rick could be a real threat as a passing PF — which would be a tremendous addition given his already remarkable progress as a scorer/rebounder/defender.
The downside? All the ball handling resulted in an ugly crooked number of turnovers for Rick. His 5 miscues were also a season high as well as a career high. That’s what happens when centers who generally only touch the ball in the post end up having to make decisions and start trying to create offense for teammates. It can be a rough transition. The last thing this team needs is yet another guy racking up big turnover numbers — every guard and swingman on the team already pads that particular stat.