One word came to mind while watching Syracuse play South Florida: Average. This isn't meant to be an insult. Syracuse beat South Florida, 72-49 and they did it by playing an average game. They had similar efforts against Pitt and Villanova but needed more than that to beat those teams. They didn't need more than an average outing to crush the Bulls.
The biggest difference between these two was the physicality. The Orange completely dominated the paint in both rebounds and points. Syracuse outrebounded South Florida 40-26 and outscored them in the paint, 38-18. And the major reason the Orange dominated the inside was of course, Rick Jackson. Jackson had a season-high 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 4 assists. The numbers don't do his performance justice. South Florida game-planned for him. He would never see single coverage for more than two seconds and often he was even triple-teamed. But it didn't matter how many players they put on him, he was able to out-muscle them all for rebounds and easy buckets.
Just like in the Connecticut game, Syracuse was able to force some turnovers that led to easy baskets. Syracuse had 8 steals that led to an easy 14 points. These are the types of easy points that were missing during the four-game skid.
South Florida had no idea how to attack the zone. In the first half they would pass it around the perimeter for far too long and would look inside when it was too late. They didn't try to slash through the zone and aren't a good enough 3-point shooting team to beat it over the top. They did beat it a few times with crisp passes to a cutter along the baseline but it wasn't nearly often enough. Without that penetration into the paint, Syracuse was able to anticipate the passes and that led them to record 7 of their 8 steals in the second half.
The offense still has a lot of room for improvement. There are a few players who continue to settle for bad shots. The biggest offenders are Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, and Scoop Jardine. Each attempted to go one-on-one multiple times and forced bad shots. Often this took place early in the shot clock. All three players are better slashing than pulling up off the dribble. So it makes sense for them to establish the drive early and later it will give them more room to get open shots. Joseph did it at the end of the game just like he did against UConn. I'd like to see him do this from the outset.
The win gives Boeheim another 20-win season. No surprise there. It was their first win outside of the tri-state area (this whole thing has gotten ridiculous) but perhaps Tampa needs to be lumped in there. While it was no Carrier Dome, the crowd was definitely pro-Orange. I hope the players enjoyed their nice trip to sunny Florida because it's about to get tough again. They play Georgetown at home on Wednesday followed by a trip to Louisville and then back home against West Virginia. Aside from those 3 games being extremely tough, they are over the stretch of just six days. Stay focused boys.
-Add James Southerland to the list of walk-ons. After not playing vs. Marquette and playing a minute vs. UConn, he came on and played the final minute with other walk-ons.
-Conversely, C.J. Fair keeps earning more playing time. He played 27 minutes last night and has become a big fan-favorite. Of course everyone loves Joseph and Jackson but Fair has been the pleasant surprise. He rarely makes a mistake and always hustles. He had a season-high 9 rebounds and added 7 points and 3 blocks.
-There was one thing about this game that wasn't average: free throws. The Orange hit 18 of 23 to the tune of 78 percent. I'm considering this a fluke until they can do it 2-3 games in a row.