We were all wrong

Nobody among us really gave SU much of a chance. Sure we had hopes, aspirations. “Maybe if someone gets hot from the outside…” and so forth. And we all know that SU historically plays their best against top opponents, ones who elicit maximum effort and focus from Boeheim’s teams. But we who have watched every minute of every game this season, who saw SU a couple inches away from a home loss to William & Mary, who saw them struggling to put away Detroit (let alone NC State or Michigan), while also watching Michigan State give Duke all they could handle at Cameron last week, had little to no optimism about tonight’s game. We’d already begun the talk of “It’ll be good for them to lose, it’ll give them a reality check” and all that. Well, the Orangemen just served us a fat plate of shut the hell up. And it tastes oh so yummy.

Here is your stat of the game. Not the rebounding margin, or the 76% free throw shooting. Here it is:

Syracuse three-point attempts: 11 (out of 54 field goal attempts)

That’s it. That’s the most important reason why they won. The coaches have successfully convinced the players not to shoot threes under most circumstances. Because SU can’t make them with any regularity, and missed threes are rarely followed by offensive rebounds, so they add up to a lot of empty possessions. The offensive strategy that is evolving this year is simple: fast break buckets whenever possible, and otherwise do your damnedest to get the ball into the paint. In this game, it resulted in a pile of dunks for Rick Jackson (a few on pretty interior passes from Melo and Keita) and a bunch of trips to the foul line. SU only made two three-pointers in the entire game. TWO. Of the nine they missed, a couple were good open looks, a couple were desperation-type shots when the offense bogged down, and a couple were just stupid forced shots. But not too many. SU valued nearly every possession, and worked patiently to try to get a good shot. It seems like an obvious strategy, but it was sorely lacking for much of the early season, when everyone under 6′9″ thought he was the next Matt Roe. But tonight, you saw a team making a concerted effort to avoid the threes and get good looks at twos. It was a deliberate strategy, based on playing to the strengths of the team.

This is known as coaching.

The defensive intensity was as good as we’ve seen all year, and they kept it up for almost the entire game. There was one stretch early in the 2nd half where they began to flag, in fact it looked like SU was running out of gas and getting tired of chasing MSU all over the court. But they sucked it up and got their second wind and put the clamps back on. MSU entered the game shooting 49% on field goals and 43% from deep as a team for the season. (And those are not exactly padded early-season stats — they’ve played as difficult a schedule as anyone so far.) And Syracuse held them to 39% and 29% respectively. Throw in the 11 steals and 16 forced turnovers overall, and it adds up to simply outstanding play on the defensive end. They made a nice early adjustment to MSU’s plan of attack; after those first two possessions where MSU gashed the defense with ease, the SU zone shifted their positioning to make it much more difficult to get the ball into the foul line area, and encourage a lot of perimeter passing instead. Notice that you didn’t see the forwards trying to fly into the passing lanes for steals all that often, at least not nearly as often as usual. Instead they just concentrated on keeping everything in front of them and getting a hand up on the shooters.

This is known as coaching.

Perhaps the best aspect of this outcome is that they did not have to play a “perfect” game in order to beat a really good opponent by 14 points. There is still plenty of room for improvement. My estimation of the prospects for this team and this season just took a gigantic leap upward. As did yours, I’m sure.

Man, it’s great to be totally wrong sometimes.


Briefly:

  • Syracusan’s preseason contention that “Rick Jackson is the key to the season” is looking less like a blog post and more like divinely revealed prophecy.
  • This is the kind of game that makes me want to hug Scoop Jardine and go “See?!?” 7-9 shooting (well, 6-8 plus one fortuitously aimed alley-oop pass attempt), 3 assists, 2 steals, and almost nothing in the bonehead column.
  • We got some good Fab and some bad Fab in this game, but overall I’m starting to be OK with his progress. He even had enough confidence to take a jump shot. Baby steps….
  • He didn’t really show up in the 2nd half, but don’t overlook C J Fair’s major contributions in the first. His skills are built for an offense focused on taking the ball at the rim, and he did it proper a few times. He was able to surprise his defender by driving to the left. Of course, he is a lefty; let’s see how long it takes for the opponents to catch on.

Bring on the Red Raiders!

2 Comments

  1. Posted December 8, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Couldn’t agree more - the 3 point stat - both offensively (not taking many) and defensively (forcing MSU to miss) was huge.

    It’s clear the top 8 can’t shoot and Mookie isn’t getting off the pine, so let’s take it to the rack, get the ball up on the glass and go get it.

    Great win.

  2. Tom
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I’ve struggled for years trying to figure out why we’re so bad against inferior opponents and good against good ones, and I think this game helped me figure it out. I know defensive intensity is something that every analyst and their mother talk about, but in the case of Syracuse, our ability to create missed shots and turnovers keys the whole offense. If they’re playing D like caged pit bulls, we’re going to get an extra 15-points on the fast breaks. But it’s the kind of intensity that 18 year olds can only probably muster for big games.

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