Inconsistent again, but a big win in the Big East

If we’ve learned anything about Syracuse this season it’s that it is inconsistent. Saturday’s game against Rutgers was no exception. In the first half its offense was efficient and its defense was porous.

In the second half, it was its offense that was the issue while its defense was much better. In the end, it was a much-needed overtime win for the Orange.

First-half defense
The Orange did an awful job defending the 3-pointer. Rutgers got too many open looks and knocked down 5-of-9 from behind the arc. Just about every single 3-point attempt was a situation in which the player was able to catch and shoot in stride.

This was not one of those games in which the offense got lucky (save for that final 3-pointer at the end of the half).

Rutgers is a small team and one of the worst in the Big East in rebounding, yet it killed the Orange on the glass. The Scarlet Knights outrebounded SU 16-12 including nine offensive rebounds they were able to convert into 13 second-chance points.

Rebounding has been a problem since Syracuse has had to go to a smaller lineup, but there’s no reason it should be outrebounded by a smaller team like Rutgers.

First-half offense
As bad as the defense was, the offense kept them in the game. Syracuse shot 58 percent in the half and assisted on 12-of-14 field goals. Brandon Triche made three of his first four shots including a couple of 3-pointers that really opened up the floor. The Orange moved the ball well and got some really good looks.

Second-half offense
After starting 3-of-4, Triche missed his final 11 shots. But I was happy to see Triche continue to put it up. He was getting good looks, he just wasn’t knocking them down.

Earlier in the season he would’ve given up on shooting long before missing 11 in a row. The Orange need him to stay aggressive, and while he was missing shots, his six rebounds show just how much he was hustling.

The biggest problem that caused the offense to go cold was abandoning offensive sets and playing one-on-one. At the 6:15 mark Syracuse led, 64-58.

Here’s what happened on its next four possessions:

1. Scoop pulled up for a 3-pointer with a defender right on him with 13 seconds left on the shot clock.
2. Joseph pulled up for a jumper with a defender right on him.
3. Scoop threw it to no one in particular and the pass sailed out of bounds.
4. Joseph dribbled… dribbled… dribbled… and dribbled it off his foot.

It was four straight possessions in which SU got zero good looks and practically no ball movement. Syracuse isn’t talented enough to win games this way (not many teams are).

Joseph is great at beating the first man on the dribble, but once he does this he has committed to going to the basket and he gets doubled and forces a bad shot or is called for a charge. He has to learn to pass after beating his initial guy and coming in contact with another defender.

Second-half defense
After making 5-of-9 from deep in the first half, Rutgers made just 4-of-14 in the second and Syracuse held the Scarlet Knights to less than 40 percent shooting.

A lot of this was hustling for rebounds and not allowing the easy second chance points off layups. The Orange outrebounded Rutgers 31-17 in the second half and overtime.

After a few subpar games recently, Rick Jackson got back on track. He recorded another double-double, finishing with 18 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks. What might be even more impressive is he scored those 18 points on just seven field goal attempts.

He went to the line a record 17 times and knocked down 10 of those. Joseph also had a solid game, scoring a team-high 21 points on just eight field goal attempts, but it was C.J. Fair who came through yet again.

Fair makes so many big plays every game. He grabs big rebounds in traffic, blocks a shot at the most crucial time and knocks in a shot when the team is struggling. Fair finished with a career-high 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and didn’t turn it over once. He knows his role and plays it perfectly.

The Orange battled through both offensive and defensive issues and needed overtime, but it picked up the very important win. You can see just how important that win was in the table below:

Big East schedule.JPG

*(road games in bold)

SU currently sits in seventh place but would’ve fallen to 10th with a loss. Although it sits in seventh, it could move up to as high as second if it wins out. Realistically though, Syracuse should be shooting to get in the top four for that double round bye.

I know some might say (perhaps even SU coach Jim Boeheim) the second bye puts the team at a disadvantage but getting in the top four would help out its seed for the NCAA tournament.

So how likely is a top-four finish? You have to assume Pittsburgh will take the top seed and Notre Dame will most likely take second. After that, any team that gets hot could finish third.

The thing Syracuse does have on its side is it holds the tiebreaker (head-to-head) over West Virginia and St. John’s, and it has the opportunity to break even with both Georgetown and Villanova in the coming week.

If the Orange splits with Villanova and Georgetown and finish with a win versus DePaul, it will be at 11-7 and that would probably put it somewhere between fourth and sixth.

The problem with not putting away Rutgers in regulation is now SU has to turn around and travel to Philly to play Villanova with four of its starters coming off having played at least 40 minutes.

Boeheim mentioned he will probably need to get a few more players involved to shoulder the load. It looks like Dion Waiters and James Southerland will get another chance to prove their worth.

-The box score says Fab Melo played one  minute, but that’s being very generous. He actually played for four seconds. FOUR seconds. He fouled Gilvydas Biruta who made the layup and was instantly pulled. Mookie Jones thought to himself, “I could’ve done that AND managed to take a 3 at the same time.”