Syracuse vs. Cincinnati as told through cliches:
It’s not how you start but how you finish
It might not be how you start, but that can certainly help. The Orange jumped out to an 18-3 lead largely thanks to Rick Jackson’s dominance in the post. He had six of the first 11 points as Cincinnati made the curious decision not to double him. It’s amazing how far Jackson has come. Of course, his scoring is up as his playing time has gone up, and he’s developed quite a post game. But what’s often overlooked is his ball-handling skills and limiting mistakes. Last season he had an assist-to-turnover ratio of .88. This year he has nearly doubled that with a 1.64 A/T ratio. Those that play fantasy basketball are aware that that is quite a high number for a forward/center. He simply doesn’t make that many mistakes. Jackson finished 7-for-8 for 15 points and 11 rebounds. It was his 11th double-double of the season.
Patience is a virtue
After that fast start, Cincinnati’s press caused some problems for Syracuse. The Bearcats took a page from St. John’s playbook and put on the full-court press, and this one was better than the Red Storm’s version. They baited the pass to the middle and one of the wing defenders would be ready to pounce on it. The strategy makes perfect sense for the opposition. Not only does it increase the chances of a turnover — which Syracuse isn’t likely to commit in the halfcourt set — but it slows the game down and negates where Syracuse is most dangerous: in transition.
Syracuse began to make the adjustments to beat the zone but by then it had another problem to deal with. The Bearcats were heating up from long distance. After trailing 18-3, Cincinnati knocked down nine of its next 15 3-pointers, including its final five attempts, to close the gap to 33-31. At first, Cincinnati was getting open looks, but Syracuse started closing out and Cincinnati was still nailing them. Dion Dixon was the main culprit, hitting 4-of-6 from 3-point range in the half. But that was as close as the Bearcats would come.
Live by the 3, die by the 3
Usually the strength of the 2-3 zone is when teams fail to hit its 3s, the zone can pack it in and suffocate the opposition. But Cincy wasn’t able to score inside — just 10 points in the paint — and the 2-3 zone was able to extend to the perimeter players. After that scorching finish to the half, the Bearcats made just 2-of-9 3-point attempts and shot 25 percent in the second half. The Orange went on a 16-0 run to start the half, and the run was sparked on the defensive end. The Orange dominated the interior, out-rebounding Cincy 41-28, outscoring the Beartcasts in the paint 30-10, and recording 10 blocks compared to zero for the opposition.
Practice makes perfect
Part of that dominance in the paint came from an unlikely source: Fab Melo. Melo’s production has been disappointing, but his attitude hasn’t. He always seems to stay positive when he’s pulled from games early and listens intently to SU coach Jim Boeheim and associate coach Bernie Fine. He has been spending extra time with Fine before practice, and it looks to be paying off. That’s why it was so great to see that big goofy smile when he came out of the game in the second half to a huge ovation. Melo earned the applause with his play on both sides of the court.
Just a couple minutes into the half the freshman rejected a dunk attempt by Ibrahima Thomas, ran the floor and finished with a dunk on the other end. Later, he kept a possession alive by batting the ball away and finished with a layup. Then, on the most surprising play of all, he set a pick up top, received the ball on the pop out to space and drained a shot off the glass. The guy looked like Tim Duncan for just a second there.
“I think [what] I do best is block shots,” he said after the game. “When I had the block [on Thomas] he tried to dunk on me. A lot of people try to dunk on me in practice. So he try to dunk on me, I say ‘No you’re not!’ I have fun doing that – blocking shots.”
From now on, I’m going to refer to Melo’s blocks as “No-you’re-nots.” For example, against Cincinnati, Melo finished with six points, four rebounds and four No-you’re-nots.
A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.
Dion Waiters is not yet a Jedi. He craves making the big, dramatic plays, but he needs to focus on the little things. Like dribbling. He looks like a cat chasing a ball of yarn out there. He constantly looks like he’s going to lose control. Maybe I’m being too critical on him since he had no turnovers, but there were at least a half dozen times when it looked like he was going to lose possession.
Great teams don’t make excuses (and battle through injuries)
Obviously, if you watched the game you’ve realized I’ve ignored the biggest news of the game. With 6:45 remaining in the first half, Kris Joseph drove to the basket, created some contact and came crashing down to the paint with his head ricocheting off the court. He was clutching his head on the ground while play continued. Some might be upset that the officials didn’t halt play, but I was upset with Syracuse. Someone needs to commit a foul to stop the game. When your teammate is laying on the court, you’ve got to wrap the guy with the ball up so your teammate can get medical attention.
While this isn’t the worst time for Joseph to get injured, it’s certainly not the best. Syracuse travels to No. 5 Pitt on Monday, followed by hosting No. 7 Villanova on Saturday. It’s very unlikely Joseph will travel with the team to Pitt, and who knows about his prospects for the Nova game. Pitt has owned Syracuse as of late, having won nine of the past 11 games. On top of that, points are usually hard to come by against the Panthers, and Joseph is Syracuse’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game. Joseph is probably the best player the Orange has at creating his own shot. Without Joseph, James Southerland and CJ Fair are really going to have to contribute. Southerland has been especially productive as of late but how will he do with the extra pressure?
“They’re known for being on us, and we’re not gonna have it this year,” Southerland said about Pitt. “I don’t think the coach would like that.”
And you don’t want to disappoint Boeheim. If you do, there might just be a Mookie Jones sighting coming off the bench. Now is when that deep bench really pays off.
-Most awkward announcer statement: “Melo just learning how to play the game, really. From Brazil. He speaks Portuguese. Baye Keita. He’s from Senegal. He speaks English.” Actually, they both speak English. Wow.
-Cashmere Wright – Candidate for best name in the Big East.
Robbie Gillies is a Senior Columnist for The Juice Online. He is also an editor at Real Clear Sports. See more at http://www.realclearsports.com/