What was the difference between Syracuse’s win over Villanova on Monday and the loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season? There are a lot of little things that you could point out to attempt to explain the difference but the biggest difference was luck. Simple as that. How else can you explain the Big East leader in free throw percentage hitting just 63 percent while the worst free throw shooting team shoots 77 percent? Villanova had an off-night shooting and Syracuse was the beneficiary.
Back in late January, when Villanova topped Syracuse, 83-72, the Wildcats shot 46 percent from 3-point range including 8 of 13 in the first half. Last night they made just 5 of 26 attempts (under 20 percent). Syracuse’s defense did a better job preventing penetration and inside scoring but the perimeter defense wasn’t spectacular. Villanova got more open 3-point attempts in the loss than they did when they won.
At this point in the season team’s aren’t getting dramatically better. There can be a tweak or two there and a bench player can emerge as a bigger presence but, in general, a team’s identity is pretty solid at this point. The part most likely to not change about a team is free throw shooting. Villanova came into the game tops in the Big East at 77 percent from the line and Syracuse rounded out the bottom at 66 percent. But like some poor movie premise with two opposite characters, the two switch places. In the previous meeting, Villanova knocked down 22 of 24 attempts but last night made just 17 of 27. And it was the Orange knocking them down, making 13 of 17 including Dion Waiters hitting two with 14 seconds left to bump the Orange’s lead back up to three.
But aside from the luck involved in the game, there was some actual basketball played and some analysis that can be made…
Despite some careless turnovers, the offense looked good. They didn’t settle for many contested jumpers and worked it around until they got a decent look. They assisted on 17 of their 26 field goals. Villanova made a concerted effort to deny Rick Jackson entry passes in the post (and Syracuse did a poor job trying to get it in to him) but the Orange worked around that barrier by penetrating and then finding Jackson off of the double team. Jackson finished hitting 8 of 9 shots for 18 points but 5 of those 8 were off of feeds for easy layups or dunks. And 3 of those 5 came from Kris Joseph.
All year Joseph has been beating the first man off the dribble but has gotten stymied by the second wave of defenders. How many times has he been called for a charge because he was determined to get to the rim and not paying attention to the help defense? Last night he penetrated and then dished to a wide open Jackson. Joseph finished just 2 of 7 for 7 points but contributed with 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Brandon Triche struggled again but he continued to take shots when they were open. There’s enough evidence that Triche is a good shooter and will normally knock those shots down, so the fact that he kept shooting is fine since they were good looks.
With Triche struggling, Scoop Jardine, every SU fans punching bag recently, had to fill the void. Jardine played his best game in months. Yes, there were a few “ScOops” but the positive far outweighed the negative. He made 7 of 11 shots, finishing with 20 points and 6 assists. “I was cool. I was just relaxed throughout the whole game and tried to let it come to me,” Jardine said. “I just took whatever they gave me. I got back-door cuts. I was just moving without the ball in whatever spots they gave me.” And that’s all we’ve wanted all season long. Just take what they give you and don’t force bad shots and bad passes and this team is so much better.
But maybe this game wasn’t all about luck. Maybe it was a little something called Karma. SU’s defense is partially to blame for seemingly every team shooting better than average from 3-point range against them but a lot of that has been luck. It was about time the Orange caught a team on an off-night. And those free throws? Well, maybe, as Rasheed Wallace said, “ball don’t lie.” This might not have been the worst officiated game of the season but there were a few poor calls and no-calls that dramatically changed this game.
At the end of the first half, Scoop threw a pass pretty much right to Maalik Wayns who went for the layup and a foul was called on Jardine. Replays showed Wayns used his off arm to push Jardine away. Then, Syracuse was called for two lane violations on free throws. I won’t even argue that they happened but I will say that I don’t know the last time I saw a free throw attempt where there was not a lane violation. Then, to compound things, Baye Keita was called for a technical for putting the ball on the ground because he was upset with the lane violation call. The final tally was a 5-point turnaround and instead of being up 7 with the possibility of making it 9 or 10, Syracuse led by just 2 at the break. They also missed three blatant travels (two on the same play) that resulted in 3 free throws for the Wildcats and with 14 seconds left, Dion Waiters was fouled hard and the ref signaled an intentional foul but later denied making the signal. This last one doesn’t really bother me because the right call was made (just a two-shot foul) but it was just another example of poor officiating.
Now let’s take a look at the Big East standings again:
And now that Syracuse defeated Villanova they should be rooting for the Wildcats to knock off St. John’s, a team that has the easiest schedule of the top teams in the conference. The Orange now have until Saturday to prepare to travel to DC to take on the Hoyas. Aside from the rivalry, it’s a huge game in the conference standings. A win against the Hoyas would be another big tournament win, avenging their earlier loss, and would put Syracuse in great position to finish in the top four.
-There needs to be a rule change on the 3-point shooter that gets a defender up in the air (but to the side of them) and then jumps out of his way to get the foul call. Clearly, the path taken was in no way an attempt to get the shot but simply to get the foul call. It’s a scourge that has affected the NBA and is now spilling into the college game.
-Fab Melo got like 30 times more playing time than he did Saturday. Melo actually looked decent running up and down the floor and had one great block on a fast break.