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:

NBA

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.

Read More »

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.

Pregame

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.

Read More »

WOOOOOO-ouisville

That. Was. AMAZING. Amazeballs, as the kids say.

I’ve spent the last several hours talking about this game and I’m still on a high. I want to do justice to the entire KFC Yum! Center experience, but that will have to wait until I get home from Kentucky. For now, let me just say that of all the SU games I have attended in person, this one may be the tops. Its main competition is Gerry McNamara’s last-second dagger at Georgetown in 2004. But wow. What a game, what a win, what an experience.

I didn’t actually rush the court, but I did head down close once things had settled down a bit. Unfortunately they’d already deleted the final score from the scoreboard. But here I am with Rick Pitino above my head and what I believe are Jim Boeheim’s in-laws over my right shoulder.

More to come Monday, plus maybe we’ll talk about the Cincinnati game. If I have any juice left. Whew.

The Kids Are Alright

If you told me that Triche and MCW combined to shoot 4-20 from the floor, James Southerland didn’t play, and SU got outrebounded by 6 while scoring only 6 fast-break points and shooting under 30% from distance, I’d say there was no way this team won that game. But that’s because until now we didn’t really know what the freshmen could do.

Wednesday vs. Providence, Syracuse’s trio of freshmen played a total of 7 minutes, totaling 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0-2 from the floor with one turnover. After the game, Boeheim said (correctly) that he’d rather win than give guys minutes — the logical implication (for those of you not adept at reading between lines) being that if he’d played those guys more, the team would have lost. Well, today against Villanova he didn’t have much of a choice. Due to circumstances (more on that in a moment) he was forced to play all three freshmen for extended periods of time. And all three of them came through with significant contributions in SU’s hard-nosed, Dome-streak-extending win over Villanova.

Foremost among the freshmen was Jerami Grant, who played his most minutes of the year (29). But he earned those minutes with a hustling, effective first half performance. He scored 7 points — more than a quarter of the Orange total in the half — and provided a spark of energy to an otherwise listless team. His play, as much as anyone’s, is what kept SU close in that opening period. He then played extensively in the second half as well, and made a couple major plays down the stretch, including making a steal, getting fouled, and hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 at a time when SU’s lead was a mere 3 points. Grant ended the game as SU’s second-leading scorer and tied for the team lead in rebounds.

While Grant made the most of his first-half minutes, Cooney and Coleman each had to wait until the second half to make their marks. After scoring SU’s first field goal of the game, Coleman did not do much in the remainder of the first half, and indeed spent most of it in his usual spot on the bench. But in the second half he had a fine stretch of basketball. Against Nova’s big, relatively experienced front line, he finally used his physicality to his advantage. He had a nice post move for a bucket, and another dunk off a great feed from the top of the key. But he also defended well inside, banging bodies with Yarou and Co. and not ceding an inch of the paint. His quick hands knocked away a couple of entry passes, and the most memorable play was when he battled hard for a loose rebound, a play that ended with a Nova player landing on his ass. Coleman got called for a foul (unjustly in my view) but even so, it was an encouraging sign of life from him.

Cooney’s big moments came late in the half, when he finally hit a pair of threes (after missing his first four attempts of the game), but his contribution went well beyond those six points. Forced to play major minutes due to Triche picking up a cheap 4th foul with 16 minutes left, Cooney was able to avoid the defensive lapses that have cost him time in the past. He played very well at the top of the zone. He’s credited for only one steal officially, but he helped cause a number of Nova turnovers. He also learned his lesson from the Providence game and stayed home on Nova’s shooters. The Cats hardly had a clean look from deep all game, and ended up shooting 22% from long range. And when Cooney finally did drain those two threes, they pushed the SU lead to 14 points and really made the game feel like it was in SU’s win column, even though there were six minutes remaining.

In highlighting the play of these three freshmen, though, I don’t want to suggest in any way that CJ Fair should be overlooked. Fair was undoubtedly the leader in this game. He played amazingly. He’s always been a complementary player, glue guy, garbage man, whatever. But as Big East play has begun, he’s now showed himself to be someone who can put the team on his back. He was unstoppable on offense in the beginning of the second half as SU methodically built their big lead. No matter who Nova put on him, he was quicker and/or stronger and able to get his shots at will. An amazing performance by CJ.

Random observation about Nova: anyone think Arcidiacono is going to be the next Mike Nardi?

Now, to this Southerland thing. Frankly, this is going to be all I say about it, because this is just annoying at this point. I’m not going to waste much energy on this. If he gets his situation figured out and comes back to play, great. If he doesn’t, the team will just have to do their best without him. If it is academic (as seems likely), then it’s particularly dumb on his part. And surprising to get this from a senior, but whatever. It’s his problem and he will fix it or not. I’m tired of stressing over stuff like this. I’m turning into Boeheim in this regard: “We’ll play the people we have.” My only desire for this situation is for it to get settled one way or another, quickly if possible, and permanently for the rest of the season (no “March surprise” please).

And that’s it.

Since there’s no midweek game this week, I’m going to aim to put together another update. And the other big news is that I am heading to Louisville next weekend, so I will be filing a report from deep inside the Yum! Center as SU plays the toughest game on their entire schedule. UL might even be #1 next week (pending the outcome of Michigan’s game tomorrow). See you then.

Did Syracuse really just win a game at the free throw line?

I saw it with my eyes and still don’t believe it. What’s next, the government minting a trillion-dollar coin?

(Oh.)

I’ll take the road win, and I’ll take the strong interior play of Fair and Christmas which is what really carried the day. Those guys stepped up when they really needed to. CJ, nicely done as usual; more of that please, Rakeem. The other good news to come out of this game is that SU had what will be its worst jump-shooting performance of the season, and still managed to win in a surprisingly hostile Dunkin Donuts Arena.

The bad news is not the bad shooting — that sort of thing happens, it’s flukey and won’t last. The bad news is that they let Providence, hardly an offensive powerhouse, shoot 50% from deep and 42% overall. Syracuse’s defensive intensity was lacking in this one. I don’t know if they were subconsciously expecting the Friars to be as awful from the floor as South Florida was, or what. But it was a poor defensive effort. Also those two turnovers in the last 30 seconds were miserable. Otherwise, I’m not too broken up about this game. If SU shoots like they normally do, they win this one by 15 points.

Thank You Doug Marrone

Dear Coach Marrone:

This is to say thank you for all that you have done for your, that is, OUR Syracuse football program. Thank you for cleaning up the steaming turdheap that was left behind by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Thank you for instilling discipline. Thank you for bringing quality back to the Dome. Thank you for two bowl wins in three years (both of which I was lucky enough to attend). Thank you for installing a pro-style system that convinced recruits to show up. Speaking of recruiting, thank you for re-establishing the Northeast connections that have been so historically important to the team, and that had been so neglected recently. Thank you for restoring potential, if not yet greatness, to the Syracuse football program. Thank you for making football season something to look forward to with excitement rather than dread, and something to look back on with pride rather than shame.

Unfortunately, there will be many out there on the internet who take issue (to put it mildly) with your decision to head west down the Thruway. Because you said when hired that coaching at Syracuse was your “dream job”, everyone assumed that you would never leave voluntarily. You have to understand, we’ve been spoiled by Jim Boeheim, and were sort of hoping you would turn into the football version of him: running a consistent winning program for years and years, always being very good, occasionally being outstanding. That fantasy is now dashed. But however we may fear for the future of the football team, no fair-minded fan should be angry at you for your decision. The chance to be an NFL head coach does not come along very often — there are only 32 of those jobs, and hundreds of men who would give their good arm to be able to have one of them. It is a no-brainer (from a professional standpoint) to take that job if it’s offered. And as for the personal aspect, that’s between you, your family, and your gut. Maybe you could turn down the job and be perfectly happy at Syracuse forever. Maybe not. None of us can tell you differently.

So, thank you and good luck in Buffalo. Come back and visit sometime. There will always be a spot for you in the true Orange fan’s heart.

Coaching. We has it.

There is a reason that Jim Boeheim has won more games than any other coach not named Krwzyzywrzyzski. It’s not that his schedules are loaded with puffery (they’re not, at least no more than your typical powerhouse program). It’s not that he’s able to routinely stack the roster with multiple McDonald’s All-Americans (there have been just 19 of them at SU in his 34 years on the bench). And it’s not that he’s just too stubborn to retire. It’s this:

The man is a brilliant coach. Full stop.

The latest example of this was the pair of adjustments he made midway through the first half of yesterday’s Big East opener vs. Rutgers. SU, led by Brandon Triche, started the game hot on offense, burying four of their first five 3-point shots and scooting out to a quick lead. But the lead was not particularly large, as Rutgers was knocking down threes of their own, mostly by Eli Carter, mostly from well behind the line. Then SU suddenly went cold, going over 4 minutes without a point. During that time, they took (and missed) seven jump shots, five of which were three-point attempts. They did not take any other shots or get to the free throw line. Meanwhile, Rutgers caught and then passed the Orange, taking a 20-18 lead into the under-8 timeout.

It was after this timeout that visible changes took place in the way Syracuse was operating on both ends of the floor. On offense, they took only one more long jumper in the entire remainder of the half, and that was Southerland spotting up for three wide open on a fast break with 2 minutes left. Otherwise, they worked the ball in close for layups and short jumpers, and drew some fouls (and made the resulting free throws). Some of the layups were of the transition variety, but even when they were going against a set defense they ran plays designed to get close shots. That this happened is not an accident. This is known as Coaching.

On defense, the 2-3 zone was tweaked and adjusted to compensate for RU’s hot outside shooting. The guards moved way out on the perimeter and defended Carter and his cronies anywhere inside 30 feet. The wing forwards crept up to help out too, when the ball went to the “foul line extended” area. This left the center and the other forward to defend the paint, basically inviting Rutgers to pass the ball down low. And they did — but then couldn’t do anything with it. The Knights’ frontcourt players are not particularly skilled with the ball, and much of the time they turned it over or took a bad shot. At best they passed it back out to the guards, but since the SU guards had stopped collapsing below the three-point line on entry passes, the RU guards could not get clean looks at the basket. That this happened is not an accident. This too is known as Coaching.

Boeheim is a master strategist. He doesn’t design innovative offensive sets, but he knows what fundamental basic thing his team can do against whatever defense you are playing. And on the defensive end, he adjusts the zone to take away what you do best, and make your less-talented players beat him. If they can.

Now, sometimes they do. Longtime readers of this blog (and there are a few of you, bless your hearts) are aware of what we call the Levance Fields Effect. In January 2007, soon after we started out blog, Mr. Fields — an unknown sophomore with relatively pedestrian stats — came out of nowhere to score 24 for Pitt as they beat SU in the Dome. We noticed that this kind of thing seems to happen to Syracuse a lot: some random bench dude who averages 5 points a game just going off against them (see also: Kuric, Kyle). So we call it the Levance Fields Effect. It’s only later in life that I’ve realized that this is, in a sense, by design. Boeheim is going to game-plan to counter your strength. He’ll do his best to limit your star players and make the rest of the team beat you. If your weaker link can step up and have a big game, congratulations, you may actually win. But as steeped in the game (particularly the college game) as he is, Boeheim knows that most of the time your weaker link is just that: weak. And most of the time, he’s going to win with this strategy. And he does. It’s simple enough for college players (of varying ability levels) to execute, yet refined enough to be maddeningly effective.

I hope he’s imparted these lessons to Mike Hopkins, or at least that Hop has absorbed them through osmosis in his many years under JB’s tutelage. Because when Jim does finally step away from the sidelines, we’re going to lose one of the game’s all-time geniuses.