Well, that didn't go as planned. A young Cincinnati came out and wiped the floor with a young Syracuse team last night for a simple reason - they were more physical and wanted it more. Syracuse came out, cruised to a quick early lead and then it looked like they thought they were in store for another South Florida game where they'd be free to run up and down the court, launch uncontested threes and get to rim. However halfway through the first half POW - Cincy punched them in the face (by the way "pow" was a reference to the 1960s Batman TV show, so go back, read that again and imagine the joker punching batman in the face - go ahead, give it a try, you'll like it).
Syracuse has not faced a team this year with the size and strength of the Bearcats and give Mick Cronin (odd name, odd looking guy, effective coach) credit - he had his team playing hard-nose physical defense that completely disrupted the Orange offense. The officials let them play, especially in the first half, and Syracuse couldn't match their opponents physicality.
What Went Wrong
* Offensive Execution - As noted above, the physical man to man and double teams in the post employed by the Bearcats got Syracuse out of their offense, they were taking quick shots and setting for jumpers before the offense was even set, which lead to......
* TERRIBLE Rebounding - Syracuse lost the battle of the boards by 7 and gave up 18 offensive rebounds. Of the 14 offensive boards they managed, I'd be willing to bet most of them came in the second half after they were down by more than double digits. When you're not shooting it well, you've got to attack the glass and go get it - especially against a team like Cincinnati which doesn't want to run and wants to control tempo.
* Piss Poor Post Play - Everyone, including T3I have been raving about the play of Arinze Onuaku, and rightly so. He picked one hell of a night to struggle. Arinze looked like he'd never seen a double team before and consequently the decisions he made when he was doubled (which was every time he touched the ball) were hideous. Turnovers, poor passing, and the lack of quick decisions lead to a 3 point night and a lot of time next to Boeheim. Sadly, Rick Jackson didn't play all that well either. AO has to be more aggressive and decisive with ball, until then, expect to see more double teams. On a topic related to poor post play, we get to.....
* Donte Greene - Greene scored 25 and had 12 rebounds, how is he a part of what went wrong? Cincy put a smaller player on him, bodied him up and tried to force him to put the ball on the floor, and the strategy worked - especially in the first half. Donte wasn't strong enough to play effectively in the post last night and his handle wasn't good enough to get buy guys on the bounce. Looks like something else other teams can learn from.
* Missing Devo - There is no denying the team missed Devendorf last night. Against physical defenders he could get to the tin and finish and on a night where Flynn didn't make a thing and Greene was constantly under pressure, having another guy who could step out and shoot it would have been huge. The other Devo related problem is a lack of depth - when things are going south like last night, there's no one to turn to on the bench. The starters played 40, 38, 38, 36 and 26 minutes last night. It's tough to come back when 4 of your guys sat a combined 8 minutes the whole game - that doesn't leave a lot left in the legs.
* Defense - Vaughan scored 29, but the real issue was that Syracuse didn't get enough enough offense out of their defense. When the zone is effective, they are trapping, getting turnovers and then getting out in transition, that didn't happen last night.
Credit Where Credit is Due
* Accountability - Between Paul Harris saying the team "wasn't ready mentally" in the Waters story linked above and Donte Greene taking blame for the loss, they accepted responsibility for what went wrong. They didn't chalk it up to "an off night" or any other lame excuse. A lot of these guys are so good that the game comes easy to them - hopefully hitting a bump in the road like this is something they will learn from - Axe believes this is the case.
* Late Game Effort - They exerted effort to get back into the game late when everyone was most likely gassed and the game was almost out of reach. Even if, as Chris Rock says, "They're supposed to" - it was good to see that they went down with a fight, down 16 on the road they could have folded their tents and went home, but they didn't.
* Donte Greene - Even after the criticism leveled above, he did get 25 points and 12 rebounds, that can't be discounted. A game like this will make him better.
* Experience - Depth and experience are the two things this team lacks - this year they aren't getting any deeper, but they can get more experienced, and this game had more lessons in it than the St. John's and South Florida games combined - if these guys are good students of the game, and I believe they are, what they learned last night can pay dividends down the road.
It was a bad loss (sorry Axe), but a loss that can be learned from. If they want to make the dance in March, games like this have to be exception rather than than rule, because the margin for error is just too thin - but that's the great thing about sports, there's always the next game (NOTE: this is not true in relation to Syracuse football).