What’s going on

Mainly, this:

That’s right, I done got me some Sweet Sixteen tickets. Two, to be precise, as a birthday gift from my incredibly generous family. I have never seen SU play an NCAA tournament game in person. This is going to be amazing, even though my nose will almost certainly be bleeding. You can expect some blurry cell phone photos of the distant action. But the atmosphere promises to be electric. And who knows, maybe I will be able to snag the lower-level stubs of some kind Miami or Marquette fan who has to leave after the first game.

The other thing that’s happening is our “Pick With Your Heart” bracket contest. The rules are:
- You must pick Syracuse to win (so you never have to root against them)
- You get bonus points if you pick against Georgetown

By the way, the last time we ran this contest, we also provided bonus points for picking against Georgetown — and they promptly lost in the first round to Ohio. So, I shall claim some small amount of karma credit for their defeat at the hands of FGCU.

Currently in the lead is “Slutz Superb Bracket” with 435 points, which includes a 50-point bonus for picking against the Hoyas in the first round. In second place is “Otis Hill Bracket” with 430 points, including the +50, and in third is “Bracketology In Moten” with 425. Moten picked the Hoyas to fall to SDSU in the second round, so he gets +30. If he’d gone the “full Esherick” he’d be in first place right now. This is what happens when you don’t hate Georgetown enough. Currently in last place is the “Vic Hanson Bracket of Excellence” who may or may not win the “best bracket name” award. (Also in the running: “Pope Jim Boeheim”.)

Prizes will be announced next week as the Final Four approaches.

Syracuse in sweet sixteen vs… Buffalo?

Not only have the Syracuse Orange demolished lesser competition to advance to the regional semifinals, but so has the City of Syracuse in the Weather Channel’s “Toughest Weather City” 2013 tournament. We defeated Roanoke, VA and their piddly 20 inches of annual snowfall in the first round of the Northeast bracket and got by storm-blasted Nantucket, MA in the second round. Now we face off against our regional rival Buffalo; it’s like Duke vs. UNC except colder. Voting is open tonight until 4AM so get yourself on there and show those Western New Yorkers how we do it on the I-81 corridor.

Interestingly, Marquette, WI has also made it to the Sweet 16. Hmmm.

Sweet again!

The Syracuse defense, when thrust upon poor, unsuspecting souls who have minimal preparation time, can be deadly. You saw it last night. On an evening when the Orange played far from their sharpest offensive game, the zone completely befuddled the entire Cal roster (and coaching staff), propelling SU back to the east coast for their fourth Sweet Sixteen in five seasons. Consider that the Bears made just four three-pointers, two of which were 28-foot bombs that had no business going in anyway, for a blistering 19% from deep. And they turned the ball over 17 times. SU was sloppy on offense and missed a ton of foul shots and yet never really seemed in true danger of losing the game.

So, to recap. Syracuse on Thursday night:

Georgetown on Friday night:

Syracuse on Saturday night:

Georgetown tonight:

See you in DC on Thursday!

Syracuse-Montana recap


“Pick With Your Heart” bracket challenge returns!

This is how your NCAA bracket should look:

You should never have an incentive to root against Syracuse. And so, we here at Cuse Country have decided to revive our “Pick With Your Heart” bracket challenge. It’s free to enter, there are prizes available, and the only rule is this:

You must pick Syracuse to win the championship.

Any bracket without Syracuse in that final slot is ineligible, null and void, it is dead, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-bracket.

Here’s the scoring system:
Round 1 (Jonny Flynn) - 10 pts
Round 2 (Carmelo Anthony) -15 pts
Sweet Sixteen (Sherman Douglas) - 20 pts
Elite Eight (Pearl Washington) - 31 pts
Final Four (Derrick Coleman) - 44 pts
Championship game - 0 pts, because everyone has the same pick

In addition, you can follow your heart even further and get bonus points for picking against Georgetown:
+50 if you pick the Hoyas to lose in the first round
+30 if you pick them to lose in the second round
+10 if you pick them to lose in the Sweet Sixteen

The contest will be hosted by Yahoo. They don’t have the Hoya Bonus factored in but I will include that in my final calculations.

Here’s the link to join via Yahoo. The group ID is #127598 and the password is “ongenaet”. Once again, it’s free to enter and there will be real prizes (to be announced shortly). So go ahead and throw your Otto hat into the ring. And may the best bracket win!

PS. On another note, this never gets old:

Otto Poster


James Southerland getting in foul trouble was not the reason Syracuse lost last night. While his absence may have accelerated the process, the sad truth is that Louisville would have worn down the Orange with or without him.

The game reminded me a lot of the 2009 BET final between these same two teams. So I went back and took a closer look, and the similarities are eerie. That year, SU was the #6 seed while UL was #1. That was, of course, the year of Six Overtimes which was only a quarterfinal game. SU had dispatched Seton Hall in the opening round (sound familiar?!) and then played the epic vs. UConn. That was followed by a single-overtime win against WVU to put them in the finals. Meanwhile, Louisville had an easy quarterfinal win, then pulled away in the second half to win their semifinal by double-digits (again, sound familiar?!) to get to the title game.

SU came out on fire in the first half of that title game, and led at halftime by 8. They shot 53% from the floor, 50% from deep, while UL shot only 27% from deep and 39% overall. Visions of 2006 danced in our heads. But in the second half, the adrenaline wore off and Louisville had the fresh legs. Their defense forced SU into 10 2nd half turnovers and held the Orange to 37% shooting, including 0-8 from deep. The Orange also hurt themselves by shooting 46% from the free throw line in that second half. You could see their legs were finally tired, ruining their long-range shooting form. Meanwhile, the SU defense started to be a step slow, and Louisville got a bunch of open looks and easy shots. The Cardinals shot 61% in the 2nd half and ended up winning by 10.

That history repeated itself last night. SU, when they were able to fuel themselves with emotion, was able to handle the Cards’ defense on one end, and smother the Cards’ offense on the other. But when momentum finally shifted, it shifted in a big way. Tectonic-plate shifting big. SU’s defense got slow and porous, giving Louisville open shot after open shot, or getting caught out of position and sending the Cardinals to the foul line. On offense, SU did not have the mental energy to handle the excessive Louisville pressure, and when they did avoid turnovers and get open jumpers, they missed pretty badly. Lots of line-drive jumpers, which are a sign of tired legs — as are the many missed free throws by normally reliable shooters.

So, whether Southerland had stayed in the game or not, the Louisville run was going to happen. They might have staved it off a while longer, and it might not have been so dramatic of a swing, but I can’t say with any confidence that they would have won if not for that fourth foul. Because I don’t really believe it.

Another thing I don’t really believe, though, was how bad the officiating was. Just terrible. Atrocious. Mind-bogglingly awful. You know how Bruce Bowen would get away with tons of contact just because he had a reputation as an “elite defender”? Well with Louisville it’s like their whole team is Bruce Bowen. Their ‘vaunted’ pressure defense consists mainly of fouling guys over and over again until they lose control of the ball. Reach-ins, chest bumps, hand grabs. Pitino’s “brilliant” strategy is that the refs can’t possibly call all the fouls, so just keep fouling. If they do call it, the worst that happens is a couple free throws. If they don’t (which they won’t, not nearly as often as is deserved) then you get a turnover, and you frustrate your opponent and weaken his mental focus. This certainly contributed to the epic run that UL went on last night.

There are only two remedies to this. One is for the referees to call a proper game. Force Louisville to back off and play within the actual rules — what a shocking concept! But that didn’t happen last night, obviously, and it tends not to happen in a typical Louisville game. (I watched some of the ACC tournament this weekend; the Cardinals are in for a rude awakening when they switch leagues.) The only other solution is to copy what they are doing, try to be just as excessive in your contact, and hope that the officials let you get away with it too. But Syracuse’s defense is built on team positioning and movement, not individual aggression. So that avenue is not really open to them. Or at least not particularly beneficial to them. So they just had to try to fight through it, but because of how worn out they were playing their fourth game in a row, especially after the raw emotion of the semifinal win over Georgetown, they didn’t have enough in the tank to do so.

Quick NCAA seeding prediction: SU’s strength of schedule (#6), RPI (#14), and BPI (#11) suggest they could be a 3 seed, and if they’d won last night that’d be their most likely position. But as things stand today they’ll probably end up a 4. Anything worse than that would be disrespectful. See you after the selection show with some quick analysis.

Still smiling

It’s 4:45, and Georgetown still sucks.

By the way, that was the game I was hoping for when I got tickets to the season finale at the Verizon Center. I think that was the game everyone was hoping for that day, except maybe the obnoxious parts of the Hoya fanbase. Anyone with historical perspective wanted one more knock-down drag-out epic battle. And I’d be saying the same thing if GU had pulled off the win. That was as satisfying a ballgame as one can hope for.

Plus, any time you are led to victory by Trevor Cooney and Baye “7-for-7″ Keita, you know you’re having a good time no matter what.

Wouldn’t it be great to take the Big East trophy and just run off with it, forever, like the annoying kid who owns the football and thus can unilaterally decide “I don’t want to play anymore!” and go home, leaving the rest of the kids to shuffle around an empty field trying to figure out something to do. (Hi UConn!)

Let’s do this. One last time. One last run to a championship. GO ORANGE!

Survive and advance

Based on his 3-5 shooting from deep, including the halftime buzzer-beater (and didn’t the final margin turn out to be three points?!?) I have added CJ Fair to yesterday’s tribute to Syracuse’s outside shooting:

I don’t know if you noticed, but they’re all holding up three fingers.

Not pictured: Michael Carter-Williams, but he played the pivotal role down the stretch. With Pitt having finally figured out how to take Southerland out of the offense, MCW made the plays in the last few moments to keep SU in the lead. He rebounded Zanna’s missed free throw in traffic, was fouled, and hit both ends of the one-and-one. On Pitt’s next possession he made the steal, got fouled, and hit both ends of the one-and-one. Not to mention the driving layup he hit with about 2:30 left — their only field goal in the final five minutes of the game.

The bigs didn’t play nearly as well as yesterday, though Keita did have a couple nice moments on offense. And CJ Fair, though he shot well from deep, had unusual trouble scoring inside, and sometimes tried to do too much when it wasn’t necessary. Still, you do what you have to do to win, and this was exactly that. Loved to see SU guys diving on the floor, particularly early, setting the tone for the game. And it was indeed a typical Big East Tournament game, full of big shots, serious hustle, and plenty of uncalled fouls (on both sides). I’d say I’ll miss this next year, except Pitt is coming along too and we could very well see a repeat of this game in Greensboro (or wherever).

Are you ready for one more shot at the Hoyas? I sure am. It can’t be any worse than last time. I’d expect something more akin to the first meeting up at the Dome (but with only about 50% of the spectators) where it’s close throughout. Georgetown will defend, that’s for sure, but I think SU has learned something about their offense in the last couple of days and will be find ways to score. I’m worried more about fatigue than anything else. Georgetown finally pulled away from Cincy midway through the second half, and they had the double-bye, and SU is basically playing a six-man rotation, so you expect the Hoyas to be fresher down the stretch of the game. But there is nothing I would like more than to knock the grin off of both Thompson’s faces. Let’s do it.

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Nothing like a porous Seton Hall defense to restore confidence in your shooting ability. Slump? What slump? How does 56% shooting sound?

Of course, Pitt’s rugged defenders could throw the Orange right back off their rhythm, where they have been for the better part of a month. But maybe — just maybe!! — this game will re-ignite the Syracuse offense and boost their play on that end more towards the high level to which we’d grown accustomed. The best part is, we’ll know in under 24 hours.

Game balls all around. Every one of the top six guys played well. MCW’s record-tying performance and Southerland’s white-hot shooting are the lead stories, but Triche also found his groove, mostly in the second half. Encouragingly, he hit a few of those mid-range shots that he used to nail with regularity but for which he had somehow completely lost the touch recently. And a couple of threes, one of which elicited a serious primal scream. And CJ Fair was back to being quietly awesome.

Plus, this game will go down in history for its Baye Keita alley-oop. I could not believe my eyes on that, and I eagerly await YouTube’s permanent memorialization of that moment. Both he and Christmas played very good games, Rak’s two jump shot attempts notwithstanding. They scored inside, rebounded a bit, and held SHU’s post threat Teague to a minimal impact. Like I said: game balls all around.

See you tomorrow!

…and Georgetown still sucks!

I don’t, in this post’s title, refer to their basketball team, which is quite talented and clearly has SU dominated this year. I give the team all the credit in the world for the whooping they laid down on the Orange. It was painful to watch, especially in person, helpless in the upper deck. I offer them my full congratulations on their Big East regular-season title.

But their fans… whoo boy. The fans are terrible, still.

Let’s overlook the court-storming. Though it was kind of lame, I can forgive it considering the historical circumstances of the game, plus the fact that the win clinched the league title for them. They get a pass on that. No, I am referring to the sub-standard attendance by Hoya fans at Saturday’s game.

“But Josh - they set an attendance record! The place was sold out! It was their best crowd ever! Aren’t body washes for ladies? What’s with this thingy?

First of all, the student section. I noted the phenomenon two years ago that the Syracuse game to which Georgetown refused to release any tickets for general public sales was listed as “sold out” but that there were nevertheless plenty of empty rows in the student section. Well, it happened again.

Here’s the seating chart:

The school reserves, for its students, all the sections in black, including 424-427 in the upper deck. I had a great view of those four sections, and the last 8 rows or so were completely empty. Completely. And many of the rows in that area were merely half-full, as people spread out to give themselves some personal space. I don’t know how they ‘officially’ exceeded the arena’s seating capacity for this game yet still had several hundred seats unoccupied. Even though Patrick Ewing is now fat enough to count as three people, that still doesn’t get you all the way there.

Seriously, kids. You go to Georgetown. You (supposedly) love Hoya basketball. If you are a current student, this is the most significant regular-season game you’ll ever have on your schedule. EVER. Nothing in the recent past, or in the next few years, will hold a candle to this sporting event. With everything that was on the line — the history, the rivalry, Otto Porter’s last game (most likely), first place — even the most casual student fan should have had this one circled on their calendar since September. And yet: hundreds of empty seats. You are pathetic. A sorry excuse for a fan base. There is no way to spin this. You are the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.

On the flip side of this, once again major credit must go out to the Orange empire. You probably couldn’t tell on TV, because we had so few reasons to be loud, but there were a ton of Syracuse fans in the upper deck of the arena. Our section (431, on the corner) seemed to be split 50/50. Looking around, there were large swaths of orange clothing visible throughout the stands. There were numerous pro-SU chants bubbling through, at least early on, and a few small orange beach balls bouncing around with Hoya-hating propaganda scrawled onto them. To put it plainly, we were out in force. Conservatively, I’d estimate that more than 1/3 of the upper deck was Syracuse fans, most of whom probably had to spend lavishly to get their tickets, one way or another. Many of them were undoubtedly purchased secondhand from Georgetown fans who sold their chance to witness history just to make a buck. (More patheticness from the Hoya “faithful”.) My crew spent around $100 each for our tickets, since we had to purchase tickets to four other games for the privilege of getting Syracuse tickets. Hell, one of our number flew to DC from Colorado just for this game. But it was worth it to us.

Apparently it was not worth it to actual Georgetown fans. And that is why it’s two days later, and Georgetown still sucks.