Expectations for the Orange are high. They are the top team in the nation, undefeated and, for the most part, have been blowing out the opposition. A home game against Marquette is one they are supposed to win. But Saturday showed that Big East play has started and ‘supposed to win’ doesn’t mean much. Connecticut, Louisville and Georgetown were all supposed to win on Saturday but they didn’t. Syracuse, meanwhile took care of business. It might not have been pretty and they might have gotten a little help from the Golden Eagles’ ice cold 3-point shooting but it was a big win in the Big East.
Marquette is a tough matchup for Syracuse. They are one of the very few teams that actually might be more athletic than the Orange. They had no problem getting to the rim and if their shots had been falling from the outside this easily could’ve been the first loss of the season.
The Golden Eagles played tremendous defense. They always seemed to put pressure on the ball and didn’t give up anything easy. Syracuse is one of the tops in the nation in steals and Marquette actually bested them in that category, 11-9. They held Syracuse to under 40-percent from the field but it wasn’t all because of the defense. C.J. Fair among other missed a few point-blank layups that could’ve increased that percentage.
Syracuse suffered from some early turnovers but Marquette was willing to give it right back. The Golden Eagles had 12 turnovers in the first half and Fab Melo was responsible for four of those. The big man stepped in to take four charges in the first 8 minutes (he has to lead the nation in drawn charges, right?).
In the second half, Marquette cleaned it up and committed just 4 turnovers. They began attacking the rim and dominated points in the paint. Jae Crowder slashed through the lane for easy layups and also hit a couple of 3-pointers. He scored 14 of his 15 points after the break and helped Marquette climb out of an 18-point halftime deficit. Junior Cadougan also came up big with 10 points after the break.
The Orange usually does a good job defending the 3-point line and Marquette was held to 23-percent from distance but the credit should not go to the defense. 17 of those shots were good looks and Marquette could only knock down 5 of those. Marquette isn’t a great 3-point shooting team but it will normally shoot better than that.
Of course, the turning point of the game came on one of those 3-point attempts. It’s no surprise that involved a defensive play that resulted in a transition bucket and that it was Dion Waiters that pulled it off. With the Orange up only 61-57 with 4:20 remaining, Darius Johnson-Odom rose up for a 3-pointer and Waiters blocked it and took it the length of the floor for the layup. Some think wondering who Syracuse’s go-to guy is is a stupid question (*cough* Boeheim *cough*). But it seems to me that that person is Waiters. He didn’t have a tremendous game last night, hitting on just 4-of-10 shots but he has become their most deadly weapon. Not only can he beat anyone off the dribble but he has also become an elite passer. He now sees the double team and kicks it out for 3-pointers (twice to Kris Joseph) or dumps it down for a dunk or layup (to CJ Fair and Melo). He had 7 assists last night bringing his total to 51 on the year already surpassing last year’s total of 49 (not counting the NCAA Tournament). It’s nice that they don’t have to rely solely on Waiters and some nights it will be Joseph that steps up and others it will be Brandon Triche or Scoop Jardine but with the game on the line the best option to handle the ball is Waiters.
With the win, the Orange improve to 4-0 in Big East play and are now the only undefeated team in conference play. What looked like it would be a somewhat tough stretch over the next 3 games no longer looks so daunting. The Orange travel to Villanova then take on Providence followed by Pitt in the Dome. Those 3 teams are the only Big East teams without a conference win and are a combined 0-10 in Big East play. But as we were reminded of Saturday, being the favorite doesn’t mean much in the Big East.