Just like season – good, not great

After Syracuse’s 63-52 victory over West Virginia, Jim Boeheim ripped into members of the media for being too narrow-minded when it came to the Orange. He believes the media has harped on the team’s recent woes and completely forgotten about the early season success. He believes they need to step back and look at the season as a whole and realize the Orange are right where most expected the team to be, if not slightly exceeding expectations. Although I do believe he was a little too harsh (especially on The Post-Standard), his point of stepping back and looking at the big picture is sound advice. Syracuse is now 21-6, 8-6 in the Big East and has lost four of its losses to top-15 teams. This team is very good but not great. And that’s a perfect way to describe how they played against West Virginia – very good but not great.

The first half went like so many other games had recently, with a barrage of 3-point shots. West Virginia is not a good 3-point shooting team but it was last night (shocker). The Mountaineers went 11 for 22, including Casey Mitchell who nailed seven of his 12 attempts. But the defense wasn’t terrible at guarding the perimeter. I counted six open and uncontested 3-pointers for WVU, and it connected on four of those. The rest weren’t easy shots and the Mountaineers still knocked down seven of 16 (44 percent). But while those 16 were contested, most were off of passes in which the shooter receives the ball squared-up to the basket and can just load and fire. Jay Bilas made a very good point that Syracuse must make those guards put the ball to the floor. It’s not enough to be close and contest, the defense needs stop the shot before it happens.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Orange struggled in the first half. The ball movement was awful. It looked more like a pickup game than a structured college offense. Syracuse was able to stick around by getting out in transition. Thirteen of its 26 first-half points were in transition, and it finished with 21 of its 63 points. The offense in the second half was much more efficient as it shot 52 percent. It spaced the floor better and was much more active. Players were moving without the ball, and that opened up lanes without extra defenders around to help out.

The biggest catalyst, though, was the defense. Syracuse held West Virginia to 28 percent shooting after the break while forcing nine turnovers (seven on steals). Once it prevented the 3-point attempts, West Virginia was forced inside where the team struggled mightily.

The offensive catalyst for the second game in a row was Brandon Triche. Triche was aggressive from the get-go, knocking down a pull-up 3-pointers just 23 seconds into the game. He then struggled over the next 13 minutes. He committed three turnovers, a couple of fouls and made just one of four shots. Earlier in the season, that would’ve caused him to stop shooting, but he now realizes he needs to stay aggressive. He continued to shoot and had a stellar second half. He made three of his five shots and scored 13 points to finish with a team-high 20 for the game. Some of these 3s he’s making are Rautins-esque and something SU will need the rest of the way.

This was a huge win as every win is in the Big East and at this point in the season. The Orange improves to 8-6 in the Big East, and with games still ahead against Villanova and Georgetown, it could finish in the top four and receive a bye in the Big East tournament (whether that’s a good thing is debatable). But first the Orange sets its sites on Rutgers, who knocked off Villanova on the road with a four-point play. In the Big East any team can win on any given day (except DePaul).

-I’ve been meaning to mention this for a few games now – The Reverse Order of the Rookies. Remember hearing about these freshmen and thinking about how Fab Melo would dominate the paint and Dion Waiters would light it up from outside? And then there were the two other rookies, Fair and some project player that would probably redshirt his freshman year since DaShonte Riley was going to be backing up Melo and/or Rick Jackson. Now the order of who has contributed is about the exact opposite of what we thought would happen. Baye Keita has started the past two games, CJ Fair played a season-high 37 minutes against WVU, while Dion Waiters has been awful in Big East play, and Fab Melo plays about five minutes a game. Should I not be getting my hopes up for Rakeem Christmas?
-I mentioned at the beginning that Boeheim ripped reporters. Here’s a small snippet of that interaction:
Boeheim: “What’s my record against John Beilein, Donna (Donna Ditota – Post-Standard columnist)?”
Ditota didn’t know the answer.
Boeheim: “Well then you don’t know your business.”

A little harsh? He also seemed to direct most of his angst about the one-sidedness of coverage on Ditota and colleague Mike Waters. I’ve read just about every piece these two have written this year, and I never thought they were anything but fair. I’m not quite sure what specifically set Boeheim off but the only reasonable explanation is he forgot it was Valentine’s Day and Juli was giving him the cold shoulder and he decided to take it out on reporters. That definitely has to be it…