Monday, December 19, 2011

Syracuse Defeats N.C. State in its First TRUE Road Game

This headline says it all - via JohnCuse1
The nation's top ranked men's basketball team the Syracuse Orange went on the road Saturday to took care of business, defeating Mark Gottfried's N.C. State team 88-72.  Luckily for Gottfried, it may be a few years before SU gets in the ACC and makes this an annual affair.

Syracuse started slow and then used a devastating 23-0 run in the first half to assume control. NC State made a nice run in the second half, but ultimately did not have enough firepower to overtake the Orange. As Kris Joseph said, the Orange are number one in the country for a reason.

I've been slightly healthier than Kim Jong Il all weekend, so here are some scattered thoughts on the game, I can't promise they make any sense.

Observations
- Kris Joseph is healthier than last year, that is obvious, but the confidence he has in his game, and his jumper in particular, is what is making a real difference. NC State came out with a quick early burst and had the crowd into the game, but the key to getting that under control was a contested three from Joseph. I don't think he makes that shot last year.

- The athletic ability of all four of SU's guards is what makes this such a dangerous defensive team. Scoop is in great shape, Brandon Triche is a tank, Michael Carter Williams has arms like plastic man and Dion Waiters has jaw-dropping athleticism. So when these guys are active, they create turnovers at the top of the zone and more importantly they convert them into points. I don't remember a Syracuse team with guards that are as good as these guys are at finishing at the rim. This team makes opponents pay in the open court -- which increases the team's overall offensive efficiency.

- Speaking of Dion - he doesn't even start, but it's time to start figuring out where he ranks on the list of the best guards in the country. If he was on one of those Jonny Flynn teams where every available body played 38 minutes a game, he'd probably be averaging about 25 ppg. We'll know if he happens to stumble across this site because he'll retweet the link.

- One of the fun elements to every game is seeing who will emerge to get Rakeem Christmas' minutes - CJ Fair or James Southerland. Boeheim will play them both in the first half and ride whichever guy is hot. Against NC State, James played lights out in the first half and CJ came on strong in the second. If this team is going to make the Final Four, both need to work hard on the defensive backboards, because both of them are smaller than a traditional 4 and rebounding is an area of weakness.

- NC State made a bunch of shots early and while some of that was due to defensive lapses, some of it was just guys making shots. I've always felt its easier to shoot well against a zone because even if you have a hand in your face, you haven't had to fight through your man to get to a certain spot on the floor. It's easier to make shots -- even contested ones -- if your feet are squarely under you.

- Fab Melo took another charge and had another active game. He was a strong inside presence and it was needed because his back up, Baye Moussa Keita had an uncharacteristically bad game. I love Baye, but he was really bad in the second half. He was far too low in the zone, allowing NC State too much room to operate below the foul line and to top if off, he wasn't rebounding the ball or blocking shots. I expect him to bounce back, but let's forget this one and move on.

- In the first half Dion made a great pass to Southerland for a wide open three at the end of SU's big run and Waiters had his hand in the air celebrating the make before James had even released the ball. That's a team playing with confidence my friends.

- Syracuse's half court offense bogged down early in the second half and exposed the Orange's biggest offensive flaw - the team doesn't have anyone that can play with a back to the basket. Without a true post presence everything has to be a dribble drive or a jumper - and sometimes jumpers aren't going to fall. Melo is showing signs in that regard, hopefully he continues to develop.

- An interesting fact pointed out by OldSaltCityAce on twitter -- Syracuse outscored NC State by 16 after ESPN gave their second half Bernie Fine update.

- Speaking of that - while no one is questioning the seriousness of Fine issue or the charges against him - breaking into the game action in the first half and filing a separate report in the second half on Fine was completely unnecessary -- especially since there hasn't been anything "new" on the investigation in days.

The Schedule

Lastly, a few words on the SU's first "true road win." ESPN and others in the media have made a big deal about Syracuse's schedule and the lack of games in home gym of the opponent. Sean has pointed out the inherent laziness of this "analysis." The fact of the matter is that Syracuse does NOT play a murderous non-conference schedule. Almost no teams do - with the big exception usually being Michigan State.

Realistically Jim Boeheim shouldn't play an insanely hard non-conference schedule because SU already plays in the toughest damn conference in the country. At the end of season, the Orange's strength of schedule will be one of the hardest in the country. According to current rankings, SU has or will play 8 teams in the top 25 this year. By comparison, Duke has or will play five top 25 teams.

The Boeheim scheduling model is consistent - play in an early season tournament that guarantees one or two match ups against good opponents. Play New York State teams in the Dome to help those programs in terms of both visibility and money, and mix in a few tougher, under the radar mid-majors to test the team and keep the strength of schedule up. This year Marshall fits into that category. It's a model that works and makes sense, because the last time I checked the whole point of the season is to prepare for March and I haven't seen any team play a "true road game" in the NCAA tournament since it was outlawed years ago.

At the end of the day, Syracuse is the number one team in the county and all the cackling from talking heads is just that - cackling. So let's ignore the white noise and enjoy the ride.

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