Syracuse’s national nightmare is over

So THAT’S what it feels like. Man that is so much better than when they lose. They should just win every game so we don’t have to go through that again. It’s all puppies and roses after beating UConn, a top-10 team, on the road to snap a four-game losing streak. It had been 16 days since their last win. During that time, Egypt has crumbled into chaos, Syracuse has gotten 150 inches of snow, and come to think of it, so has Charlie Sheen (hey-oooo! It’s never too soon to make fun of Charlie Sheen). So what were the differences between this game and the previous four?

More active zone – This is the factor everyone will point to as to how Syracuse won this game and snapped its losing streak. In particular, Dion Waiters and Baye Keita had active hands. When UConn attempted to pass through the zone, they were there to intercept passes. The Orange doubled effectively in the post and the corners and also closed out on shooters better. During the four-game skid Syracuse averaged 6.8 steals per game, and last night it racked up 12 vs. UConn.

The biggest task was slowing down Kemba Walker. It was a combination of constantly doubling him and also staying in front to not allow penetration into the middle of the zone that held him in check. Walker was held to a season-low eight points on three of 14 shooting. Not bad defense on a guy that came in averaging more than 24 points per game.

Looked to fast break off of rebounds and steals – Early in the season Syracuse got a lot of buckets in transition. It wasn’t always from steals from the top of the key but also when the rebounder quickly looked for an outlet pass. Recently, it had gotten away from that and seemed content to set up in the halfcourt. Last night though, it seemed like there was a concerted effort to pick up the pace just a little bit. This was especially apparent in the second half when Syracuse scored 11 points off of six UConn turnovers (all steals).

Better ball movement – When its wasn’t able to get out in transition, its halfcourt offense was better. Yes, it shot less than 38 percent from the field but at least it was spread out. It was able to get the ball into Jackson, often in single coverage and also able to kick it out for some open 3s. The ball movement was relatively nonexistent in the first eight minutes of play when the Orange began the game hitting just two of 12 shots. If you make those 12 shots out then it shot a staggering 42 percent from the field!

Hustling to rebounds – Hustle. That’s really what won this game. The Orange hustled for the full 40 minutes, and nowhere does that show up more in the box score than on rebounds. It out-rebounded UConn 42 to 32 while grabbing 17 on the offensive end. It’s not like UConn is some slouch on the boards. It has out-rebounded opponents by an average of six boards per game. Jackson, of course was a beast grabbing 13 rebounds, but it was also Keita who grabbed 11 and Waiters and Fair who grabbed 4 each. It was a complete team effort to crash the glass. And that’s why Southerland played one minute last night. The 6’8 sophomore didn’t play at all against Marquette, but in the three previous losses he had played 73 minutes and had corralled just three rebounds.

Scoop Jardine didn’t play well, but he didn’t do enough negative things to cost the Orange the game, and maybe this is the best role for Jardine. That sounded really harsh but let me explain. Early in the season Scoop was the man. He bailed the team out of many potential losses, and he was elevated as the leader of this team – a role he was quick to accept. But recently, when the Orange has struggled he has tried to single-handedly get it back in games, and he’s not offensively talented enough to do that. He needs to dial back his game and let others contribute more. If Jardine can limit himself to zero to two turnovers per game and a selective six to 10 shots per game it will greatly benefit this team.

One of the best parts of this win is Syracuse was able to control this game with little help from Kris Joseph. Joseph had just two points at halftime on one of five shooting. He didn’t shoot much better in the second half, but he did take over down the stretch. With UConn in the penalty, Joseph drove to the hoop and got fouled a pair of times, hitting on one of the shots to score five of the final 10 points. It was great to see him be so aggressive despite having a poor game up to that point.

With a win like this it’s easy to look at the stats and say that Syracuse played so much better than it had in the previous four games, but that’s only part of the story. Syracuse did play better but not that much better. UConn had a little something to do with this game as well.

Unlike in the previous losses, the Huskies didn’t have someone that caught fire. It’s not like Syracuse played that much better defense on Kemba Walker as it had on Jeremy Hazell, but Hazell knocked his down, and Walker didn’t. Some might look at Jeremy Lamb’s line of 22 points on nine of 16 shooting (four of 10 from 3) and say that he caught fire. Lamb could’ve easily had 30 points. He passed up a number of WIDE OPEN 3-pointers. That kid scares me. He’s going to be unbelievable next year.

UConn killed its chances with sloppy passing. Villanova and Pitt didn’t try to thread it through three defenders or make those ill-advised cross-court passes. It was as if they had never played against the 2-3 zone before. Those bigs didn’t even look at the basket from the high post. During the four-game losing streak, the opponents took the air out of the Orange by taking a lot of time off the clock. They were all very patient. UConn just didn’t want to play this way, and the team paid for it.

What was Connecticut’s game plan on defense? It played great man-to-man defense on the perimeter, but it needed to help out on Jackson. It gave him far too many looks in single coverage when it should’ve doubled him and forced Syracuse to make shots from the perimeter.

Obviously this is a huge win and apparently unexpected.

From Seth Davis’ mailbag: Seriously, what’s going on with the ‘Cuse? I knew it was too good to be true at 18-0, but losing four straight ain’t right. Can you identify this team’s main issues?
— Orange Julius, Syracuse, N.Y.

I’m assuming that Mr. Julius’ first name really isn’t Orange, but I admire his fealty in the midst of his team’s four-game losing streak (which is about to be five, since they are playing at UConn tonight).

First of all, he doesn’t even know what a Orange Julius is. That guy is seriously missing out on one of the small pleasures in life. Secondly, we’re waiting for your apology.
-Baye Keita is listed as 6’10 and 220 lbs. Fab Melo is listed as 7’0 and 260 lbs. So how come whenever Keita fouls someone they have no chance of making the basket but when Melo does they pretty much always get a clean look at the basket? Keita’s gotta teach Melo how to hack like a true Cuse center.
-The good thing about not being ranked so highly is Syracuse gets a chance to move up. When it was ranked third there was little chance of moving up. What are the chances Ohio State or Duke lose (apparently decent if Duke is playing a Big East team)? Now there are 16 teams that we get to root against.