Given the context — the importance, the opponent, the adversity, and the improbability — I’m inclined to think that the first 30 minutes of SU’s win against Gonzaga was the most impressive display I have ever seen from a Syracuse team.
I realize Gonzaga is not a top ten team, and that the final margin was only 22, and that we’ve beaten better teams at more important moments in the past (2003, duh) — but never have I seen the kind of performance in the face of obvious disadvantages that SU put on yesterday.
With all due respect to D-Riles — who’s effort and determination I admire — Syracuse spent almost 9 minutes of the first half playing 4 on 5 basketball against the #18 team in the country…and completely blew them out of water. Four against five! Against a top 20 team! And it was a blowout! I’ve never seen such a thing. I would not have thought it possible.
Riley is a nice player with tons of potential who is going to be a serious contributor someday, but for now he’s a non-factor (one great assist notwithstanding). I’m not a hater — I think he’ll be awesome some day and this experience will help him a lot — but he’s just not quite ready. Because of Rick’s foul trouble we played almost 40% of the game with Riley on the floor. This should have been a debilitating problem against a serious NCAA tournament competitor, especially a battle-tested and confident team like Gonzaga that has seen it all before. I would have considered it a miracle achievement if we simply broke even during the 4 on 5 minutes. Instead we laid the hammer down like the Zags were Colgate, and turned a close game into an emerging blowout. Our 4 guys on the floor weren’t just a little bit better than the #18 team in the country, they were a lot better. It wasn’t even a contest. Simply breathtaking.
During the 2003 season a running source of amusing commentary among the Cuse Country crew went something like this: “Boy, it sure is easier to win college basketball games when you have a current NBA all-star playing for your team.” Obviously it was a reference to Carmelo and how unfair he made it on our opponents, being a man among boys. He wasn’t just a future NBA player like many other teams could boast, he was a guy playing at an NBA all-star level while still in college (against the likes of Providence, Ha! Good times, good times).
All season I’ve resisted the temptation to compare Wes to Melo, because it’s clear that Wes’ game is a bit more limited than Melo’s, and that Wes has more trouble dominating in all phases of the game. Carmelo was a top 3 pick, and Wes will maybe be a little lower in the lottery. Carmelo could get to the rim any time he wanted and scored in every conceivable way, whereas Wes primarily gets his baskets on open threes, turnaround jump-shots (NBA caliber!), and transition dunks. Melo was also a more consistently dominant rebounder, although Wes is probably a better defender at this stage. Wes will be an excellent NBA player, but I never considered his upside to be at Carmelo’s level. Wes rarely looked like a “current NBA all-star” this season, even before his hand issues.
That may have just changed. When you drop 31 and 14 on the biggest stage, at the biggest moment, under circumstances where your performance is absolutely vital (because of AO’s absence), then your game absolutely deserves to be called Carmelo-esque (Carmelo-y?). Fine, he looks a little different out there than Carmelo did, and he has to get his points in less flexible ways. So what? Dominance is dominance, and if Wes keeps this up for another week or two he may find himself drafted right up there in the same range as Melo and Jonny Flynn. I’ll regret not getting to see him for a second year, but when a guy can do the kinds of things that Wes just did to Gonzaga, then clearly he belongs in the Association, not the NCAAs. Lets all just hope and pray that he gives us the same gift that Carmelo did before he bounced outta town too.
I’m almost out of energy, but I remiss if I didn’t say this: Andy Rautins, holy crap. He’s a killer, simple as that. He’s a murderer; he’s a brutal, remorseless assassin. He went out there and committed war crimes against innocent civilians from the WCC. As dominant as Wes Johnson is, we know who the knife is that cuts out the enemy’s heart. Victory is a total team effort, but it’s Andy that makes the other team just want to give up. When he makes it rain like he did yesterday, you can see the life drift out the opposition. You can see them lose the hop in their step, and the light leave their eyes. Wes, et al, pour on the body blows until the enemy is ready to submit, and Andy is the killer that steps on the neck. I almost felt bad about it. Almost.
We are a lucky bunch of fans this season.