Last night I returned to my roots, to the land of my forefathers, to the hallowed ground upon which my dreams have been built for nigh upon three decades. I refer, of course, to the Carrier Dome. I was at the Princeton game last night, along with two other Cuse Country authors and some assorted family members. I loved the new ribbon board at first sight, although to be honest it didn’t catch my attention much during the game. Probably because we were seated in the third deck, directly above said board, so my attention was focused down rather than out and around. I loved the readily available Labatt Blue. But most of all I loved watching the boys in person again, seeing the zone shift and sway as a unit, watching guys sprint down the court looking for lanes to the hoop. The 2nd-half block by Baye Moussa Keita to thwart Princeton’s fast break attempt was even more impressive in person — he all but flew down the floor from end to end. And of course I enjoyed walking out of there with a nice 20-point win.
In terms of the team’s play, I was satisfied but not blown away. The tally of 19 steals seems high, it really didn’t feel like SU was swiping the ball all that often. I think it’s because the steals rarely turned into fast breaks (unlike what we are used to). Princeton did a good job of falling back on defense as soon as they lost possession, preventing too many Orange run-outs. SU had only 12 fast-break points, six in each half. Hardly the run-and-gun one expects from a typical Orange squad. Also, the usually stout zone allowed the Tigers to shoot nearly 50% from deep for the game. One guy in particular had a lightning-quick release and repeatedly got off shots from the corner before the wing defender was able to rotate back. And while I’m carping, Triche really had a rough game. He seemed early on to lose the aggressiveness he showed over the first couple of games, and revert to his pre-senior form as a complementary player. Of the few occasions on which he did try a drive, many were forced and ended up with him dribbling the ball off his foot in traffic or something. Not his finest performance. And Cooney had a particularly rough time while he was in there, plunking the side of the backboard with a wide-open three and forcing a couple of other shots, while not contributing in other facets of the game. As much as everyone said the redshirt year helped him, he still seems a step or two behind where he needs to be to really help the team. Here’s hoping he gets the chance during the December cupcake schedule.
But that’s the sum total of the bad stuff. The play of the rest of the team ranged from adequate to excellent. Obviously Southerland was feeling his oats, and this team is so much more dangerous when he does. We saw it last year in spurts, but with losing the top three playmakers from that team, it’ll be a lot more important this season. I was particularly impressed with the game that Michael Carter-Williams had. Not only his efficiency and production, but his leadership. There was one point midway through the second half that illustrated this perfectly. The team was coming out of a timeout, so they’d just been listening to Boeheim for a solid 2 minutes. But as the huddle broke, MCW gathered the five guys who were going back into the game and gave a quick pep talk of his own. He’s clearly ready for his role this season. I thought all three centers had spurts of quality play. Coleman had a number of rebounds in traffic and a few nice tip-ins, though his post-up game is still not ready for prime time. As one of my colleagues pointed out, when he gets the ball in the post it looks like he’s moving in slow motion. Someone needs to show him tapes of Arinze Onuaku. Rakeem Christmas showed off a bit of a jump shot, and played pretty good defense, though how he ended up with only one rebound is unclear. Keita did what he always does, which is defend the middle and make the occasional layup. And finally, there is CJ Fair, who had a very quiet 12 points and 6 boards. You hardly noticed him during the game, but he was just a consistent producer throughout his 34 minutes of court time. And he was the better wing defender by far — most of Princeton’s corner threes came from Southerland’s side of the zone.
The Dome crowd was pretty quiet, what you would expect from an early-season game with no student section. Over 17K in the house, i.e. the equivalent of two sold-out Seton Hall home games. There were a few serious spurts of noise, mainly in the 2nd half when SU pulled away for the last time with a series of exciting plays (the BMK block leading to a Southerland hoop-and-foul being topmost among these). Southerland and MCW were both at times exhorting the fans to make noise, which would work briefly before everyone settled back down into their comfortable steel benches. I expect that some of the lack of noise was directly connected to the lack of fast breaks, for which I blame the disciplined Princeton team. Borrrrrrrr-ing. Go back to your sculpture garden.