And for those who are going to accuse me of being a downer in the aftermath of our first #1 seed in 30 years, I say ease up. The companion post to this one, with the reasons that the Orangemen will make the Final Four, is on its way tomorrow. I prefer to get my pessimism out of the way early.
- Arinze’s Mysterious Injury
The biggest SU fan I know was certain as early as Friday that a coverup was underway regarding AO’s knee, a coverup that we now know to have occurred. His key pieces of evidence were the timing (saying AO was “likely to practice Monday” — conveniently after the Selection Show — but refusing to say he’d be ready for the tourney, which ought to have been equivalent statements) and the diagnosis (the MRI could at best rule out a tear in the tendon or muscle, but could not definitively diagnose a ‘quad strain’). I hate that he was right, because while we all expect SU will get by Vermont without him, from there on out the prospects become dicey. The two-headed attack in the low post has been SU’s bread-and-butter on offense this year. There are very few teams that can match up well against both of our big men. Why else do you think we lead the nation in offensive FG%? Lots of layups. Plus, forcing defenses to collapse inside leads to plenty of open looks from deep. That type of offensive attack is something nobody else in the field has, and without it we become a lot more ordinary. I’m not as worried about the suddenly wafer-thin bench. Recently, SU players have been extraordinarily well-conditioned — you need look no further than last year’s BET to recognize that. Wes and Andy have been playing 40 minutes a game all year, and Kris has played over 30 minutes a large number of times. I’m not worried about fatigue. Foul trouble, maybe. But not fatigue. I’m more concerned with losing the offense that AO brings.
- Kansas State
Those guys are good. I mean really good. Of course you have to beat the best in order to be the best, and even if SU gets to the Elite Eight, they might not. But it’s hard to see where they would trip up. They’ve got a complete, balanced team, and a couple of superstar playmaking guards in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. Those guys are small but powerful and should be able to penetrate the zone and score. I’d much rather face any of the other 2-seeds.
- The rest of the West
The West is loaded with the types of teams that can give SU trouble: rugged grinders (Pitt, Xavier, K-State, FSU) that can potentially derail our offense and precision pass-and-shoot squads (Gonzaga, Butler) that can potentially shred our defense. The talking heads seem to agree that the West is on the “easy” side (though the South is generally thought of as the weakest quarter of the field) but in a college hoops season like this one, without the huge talent disparities of the past, it’s all about matchups. And I am already cringing at the way most of SU’s potential opponents seem to match up favorably against the Orange.
- We’ve been exposed
We’re on a two-game losing streak, against two teams that completely killed our vaunted defense. The blueprint for beating SU is out there. It’s on tape for everyone to see. Especially Georgetown’s dynamic offensive performance on Thursday. The post-game quotes from coaches and players tended to give a lot of weight to the fact that it was the third matchup against GU and thus they’d had time to figure it out. Boeheim himself said “We’re looking forward to get out and play somebody that hasn’t seen us.” While it is true that there is no better way to prepare for the SU defense than to play against it a bunch of times (how often have you heard the heads say “you can’t simulate that in practice”?) that does not mean it’s otherwise un-prepare-for-able. I’m concerned that the team might feel like all they have to do is step onto the court and the other team will be immediately shut down. That’s not going to happen. The Orangemen need to get back to imposing their will on the opposition, something that hasn’t occurred nearly enough in recent weeks.
- Losing the Mascot Wars
I thoroughly enjoyed the breakdown of SU’s NCAA Tourney record vs. other teams based on their mascots found embedded in this syracuse.com story. Otto is only 8-9 lifetime against teams whose mascot is a person. We might have to play the Seminoles in the 2nd round, then the Commodores in the Sweet 16. I’d be more confident if the matchup was against these Commodores:
There you have it. Plenty of doom and gloom to go around. Check back tomorrow afternoon for a dose of positivity.