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.

Once more, with feeling

As time ticks down to the final “real” game against Georgetown, I quickly want to share a few bits of Hoya hate that have recently come to my attention.

1. Georgetown wants to crush the world

I happened to see the Georgetown campus shuttle on a DC street the other day. I was immediately struck by the image of two giant hands getting ready to squash the planet into crumbs:

I don’t think there is any other way to interpret that, do you?

2. Georgetown’s fight song is sad, whiny, and terrible

Have you ever listened to Georgetown’s fight song? Here are the opening lines:

It’s been so long since last we met,
Lie down forever, lie down;
Or have you any money to bet,
Lie down forever, lie down.

What in the holy name of Craig Esherick is that supposed to mean? Did you just run into your old Hoya chum a the yacht club and immediately try to scheme him out of his trust fund? And “lie down forever, lie down” — are you wishing him death? Or maybe it’s just a reference to the life of luxury to which all Hoyas aspire, not having to lift a finger, or even get out of bed, forevermore, while one’s broker multiplies the holdings one inherited from grandpa.

This opening stanza is, to be fair, followed by one with more conventional fight song sentiments. If only they weren’t set to the tune of “Nanny nanny nyah nyah”:

And then the middle of the song is just a long list of the schools that Georgetown is not, but presumably wishes it were: Yale, Navy, Cornell, Harvard, Holy Cross, Princeton. Then it’s back to the top for another round of betting and more “nyah nyah” taunting.

3. Dikembe Mutombo’s Geico ad is awful

He’s a cruel, cruel man. Denying that kid his favorite cereal. Probably left the mess for the minimum-wage supermarket janitor to clean up, even though he made millions of dollars in the NBA. What a jackass.

There’s more out there, but I can only handle so much Georgetown at once without vomiting.

I tell you, I am really going to miss this rivalry. Though the games will continue, for a while anyway, I am pretty sure the undercurrent of mutual antipathy is going to fade with time. So I now raise my bottle of Middle Ages Syracuse Pale Ale. Here’s to the hate. Your mother’s a Hoya. See you tomorrow at the game!

When life intervenes

You may have noticed that this space has been silent for the past six weeks. Unfortunately, things have happened which have conspired to rob me of the many hours a week I used to have available to put into this blog. I had a Villanova postgame autopsy all put together in my head but was thwarted by an unexpected turn of events. I’ve been running a few steps behind ever since. But with Syracuse’s Big East finale looming, and a batch of tickets thereto in my possession, it’s time to take advantage of DC’s snow day to get back into the game.

I’m not going to recap all of the ups and downs of the past six weeks. But they have certainly exposed the team’s major flaw: lack of an elite scorer. They need someone who can put the ball in the hole in the last two minutes of the game, when defenses tighten, whistles get swallowed, and the pressure gets cranked up. All of SU’s losses over the past month, with the possible exception of the Pitt game, have been tight contests until the last couple of minutes. Early in the season SU was winning these games with defense and opportunistic scoring (e.g. off late turnovers). But lately they’ve been stymied again and again.

I think it really has to be Triche who becomes this guy. CJ Fair has been phenomenal but there’s only so much mid-range game you can rely on. Southerland is great when he gets hot but he can hardly dribble, let alone create his own shot. MCW is still too inexperienced and makes too many questionable decisions, plus he doesn’t have a consistent jump shot. And nobody else on the team is even a candidate for this. It has to be Triche. He has to use that “running back frame” over and over to get into the lane and shoot floaters, draw contact, find the open man. It’s probably unrealistic to expect him to develop that mentality now, when he has only rarely shown it in the past four years. But that’s the thing. He has shown it at times. We’ve seen him take over, seemingly out of nowhere, a few times a season. He did it in SU’s season opener this year and I figured he’d made the jump from “complementary player” to “team leader”. But he’s not come through nearly as often as we’d hoped. As a result, this is a team made up entirely of complementary players.

I still think this team has the ability to make a deep tournament run. Opponents outside the Big East are not as well prepared for what SU brings to the table on either side of the ball. On the other hand, they could lose in the first round to some CAA team with a shooter who gets hot and a bunch of bruisers on the front line. I guess that’s what makes college basketball exciting, though. And this year more than ever, everyone is losing all the time. Usually the #1 seeds are teams with only a couple of losses, and those to other elite teams; this year there will probably be a #1 seed with at least five losses, including a stinker or two. I don’t envy the committee.

Anyway, back to this weekend. There are Cuse Country staffers coming into DC from all over the country and we’ll be storming into the Verizon Center in our brightest orange. Despite what happened at the Dome a couple weeks ago, I’m still insanely pumped to see what goes on in that building for the last meaningful time. I plan to have more in this space in the next few days.

I don’t expect to have time for another Pro Update anytime soon, but I do want to share with you this heretofore overlooked nugget:

In January, Terrence Roberts played four games for Sonic Boom KT in South Korea. He scored a total of 11 points in 17 minutes of game action, with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block. I’d assumed T-Rob had been trying to get back in the D-League with all the other former SU players, and maybe he has, who knows. But at least he’s still out there living the dream.

The wandering Canadian (Pro Update January 2013)

As I sat around last night watching Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks go up against the Kris Joseph-free Celtics, I realized it’s time for another Pro Update. Here’s what’s been going on:


As mentioned above, Kris Joseph was cut by the Celtics earlier this month. In fact, he was cut just a few hours before his contract would have become guaranteed for the rest of the season. It was a pure financial flexibility move for the C’s, who now have roster spots and money available under the cap in case they want to add someone later on this year. K-Jo’s totals as a Celtic: 6 games, 24 minutes, 7 points. According to his agent he’s considering going overseas to finish out the year, or may go back to the D-League as a free agent. Personally I hope he heads back to the D-League, tears it up, and gets himself a 10-day contract someplace. He deserves a shot on a team where the coach doesn’t hate to play rookies.

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So much Cooney (SU beats Cincy)

In Syracuse’s last-minute, grinding win over Cincinnati on Monday, Jim Boeheim went with a three-guard lineup for a long, long stretch of the game. He ran it for the final two minutes of the first half, and then from the 16:30 mark of the 2nd half until around the 9:00 mark. Here, finally, SU felt the absence of James Southerland. Grant has filled in well overall, but Cincinnati’s persistent zone defense proved particularly challenging for him, and Boeheim went to Cooney to try to spark the offense. He did a decent job, hitting a couple of shots but just as importantly forcing UC to pay some attention him on the outside, which helped open up driving space for Triche and MCW. But SU’s rebounding suffered during this stretch: they gave up three offensive rebounds on seven missed Bearcat shots during this time span.

All that said, the lineup actually worked, to a point. SU was down by 4 when Cooney entered in the 2nd half, and they were down by 2 when he left. But still — this is the scenario where Southerland would really make a difference. You have to respect his shot more than you respect Cooney’s (no offense to Trevor) and for all his defensive flaws you’d rather have him than Triche on the wing of the zone.

I give Cooney credit for stepping up and contributing during his most meaningful minutes of the season. His other long stretch of important play was against Villanova, when Triche had to sit with 4 fouls for much of the 2nd half. In that game he hit those two late threes to put it out of reach, but before those shots he did precious little. In this game he had a couple of important threes but also four steals and one fast-break hoop that looked like it ought to have been a three-point play.

Whether Boeheim rolls out the three-guard look against Nova this weekend remains to be seen. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, the Wildcats rely much more on their forwards this season than they have traditionally done. Going for long stretches with Triche on the baseline may be a dangerous proposition. In the last game, Grant, Christmas, and Coleman all played well and each had key plays that helped the Orange secure the victory. They’ll probably have to repeat that feat. My hunch is that JB will indeed go to the three-guard look for at least a little while, just giving it a try to see what happens, but that it won’t be particularly effective and that he’ll switch back to something more traditional for the remainder of the contest.

Into the Cardinals’ nest: Cuse Country invades Louisville

The biggest SU fan I know moved to Louisville in October, and soon after he was settled in we made plans to attend this game. I got on a plane in Baltimore at noon and was in downtown Louisville by 2. A quick meal and a margarita at the Mexican restaurant across the street and we were ready to head into the KFC Yum! Center: a beautiful arena with a ridiculous name.


On our way in we were greeted by this guy, standing on a lamppost leading a C-A-R-D-S chant with the folks thronging to the doors.

(On a side note, the C-A-R-D-S chant is slightly awkward, rhythmically I mean. That fifth letter prevents it from having a comfortable meter to it like its four-letter progenitor “J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets”.)

As we entered and got our bearings there were a few little patches of orange among the sea of red. And while the Dome may have Taco Time, the Yum! Center has this:

Yes, an anthropomorphic taco in a diaper. This is the price you pay when your arena is sponsored by a family of fast food chains.

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