The Dag Bag – Is it time to hit the panic button?

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Are you concerned with the basketball team’s recent performances?

Am I concerned? No.

Have my expectations been lowered a bit? Perhaps.

I think I’m back to the pre-Michigan State expectations at this point. Back then, the team was scraping by on talent, playing teams it should have been handling easily and barely beating them.

Then, the Michigan State game came along, Syracuse played a great all-around game, and routed the now unranked Spartans. Before that game, they looked like a top 20 team.

From the Michigan State game up until the Pitt game, the Orange was beating up on teams, good or bad. During that stretch, it looked like a top-5 team.

Now, in a 10-day span, the Orange lost to No. 4 Pitt in one of the toughest places in the country and No. 7 Villanova, a team that has more wins in the Carrier Dome than any other opponent in recent years.

Those are understandable losses, albeit frustrating.

If those losses happen two weeks apart, nobody panics. The real kicker, though, is losing by 22 at home to Seton Hall. Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope have given Syracuse fits for a couple of years now.

But Syracuse should still win that game at home. And, not only did it lose, but it got pummeled.

So, Syracuse back to being a top 20-ish team, which is probably where it deserved to be.

Has it been a bad week?  Absolutely.

Do I think they can still make a decent run in the tournament? Sure.

In the Big East, it’s never good to hit the panic button because there are usually about five or six tough games in a row coming up on the schedule.

How much do the Orange miss the guys that moved on after last year (Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku)?

This question is in response to a post-game quote after the Seton Hall game from Jim Boeheim: “We lost three great players [from last year],” Boeheim said, referring to Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. “Not good college players. We lost three great college players. We lost those three guys, and we replaced them with three freshmen. Freshmen do not do well in this league. They’ve never done well in this league. And they’re not doing well in this league as we speak.”

To answer the question, I’ll take “a lot” for $1,000, Alex.

Since I have been able to pay attention to Syracuse teams dating back to the early 1990s, the only team that compared to last year’s team in terms of talent and chemistry was the 2003 national title team.

Of those three guys, Johnson was a high-lottery pick, the leading scorer and the Big East Player of the Year. Rautins was a second-round pick, the team’s leader, as well as its best defensive presence and shooter. Onuaku did not get drafted, but the guy was an anchor inside and shot 60 percent from the field.

Like Boeheim said, those three guys left, and the four freshmen came in. Do you remember where those three guys were when they were freshmen? Try this:

Rautins: 2.9 PPG, 0.9 RPG
Onuaku: 2.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG
Johnson: 12.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG

Coach is right. The Big East is not a league in which freshmen dominate, outside of Carmelo Anthony. On top of that, a guy like Kris Joseph goes from being the third scoring option to having to be “the guy” offensively, a difficult transition.

But Boeheim and his assistants are notorious for developing players.

With the talent that Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair, Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita possess, they will develop into solid contributors if they decide to stick around. In the meantime, it’s up to Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson to shoulder the load.

I will say this – in the Pitt and Villanova losses, those three guys didn’t take enough of the “important” shots when they were trying to take the lead against Pitt or narrow the deficit against Villanova.

The veterans need to be the one to take those shots and carry them through the crucial moments.

Who is the best team in the NCAA right now?

This could change next week, but for the moment, I’ll take the easy way out and pick the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

One of my co-hosts on the “Young Guns” on 790 The Zone in Atlanta is a Buckey alumnus and just wrote a blog today stating his case as to why his boys are tops in the land.

Let’s start with this: They’re 21-0.

They also boast the top freshman in the country: Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is averaging 18 points and 10 boards a game and is No. 2 on my Player of the Year list behind UConn’s Kemba Walker.

They’ve got experience from guys like fifth-year senior David Lighty, who was from the same class as Greg Oden and Mike Conley back in the day. Add sharpshooter Jon Diebler, some other freshmen contributors and a boatload of length across the board, and the Buckeyes have got all the elements to be there on Final Four weekend.

Now, with a healthy Kyrie Irving, maybe Duke stakes that claim. And Pitt is certainly in the conversation, too.

But, for now, I’ll take THE Ohio State University. (God, I hate saying that. You would think I could stop myself from typing “THE,” considering I’m in control of my hands. But, it slipped. And I apologize.)

Matt Dagostino is a Senior Columnist for The Juice Online. He is also a host on the “Young Guns” on Sports Talk 790 The Zone in Atlanta. See more at

About Matt Dagostino 115 Articles
Matt currently works as an on-air talent and producer for Turner Sports in Atlanta, where he is from. Among his responsibilities are voicing over highlights for,,, and He has also served as an associate producer for TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs and TBS’s coverage of the MLB Postseason. Matt also has experience as a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer and as a PA announcer in D-I college athletics. Matt graduated from Syracuse University in 2005.