After the win against South Florida on Wednesday I wrote about how Syracuse 'keeps finding ways to win.' Well, they did it again. Of course, 'finding ways to win' in this case means blowing a 17-point lead and probably getting lucky there wasn't a foul called on the final play of the game. But (and I don't always fully believe this) a win is a win. Taking down UConn at Gampel Pavilion for the first time ever on ESPN GameDay to secure the Big East regular season title outright is a big win no matter how they got it.
Syracuse did a lot of things right but UConn helped the Orange out by not playing to their strengths. Connecticut is not a good 3-point shooting team. They rank 10th in the Big East in 3-point percentage. Their strength is in the paint. With big guys like Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Andre Drummond they should dominate the interior on both ends of the floor. Not to mention Jeremy Lamb, who is one of the best slashing guards in the conference. And yet, the Huskies were more than content to settle for jumpers.
What had been plaguing Syracuse in recent weeks has been their rebounding. That was not a problem in the first half of this game. The Orange were collecting those missed jumpers and not allowing UConn to get second chance opportunities. In the first half, UConn grabbed just 3 offensive boards and had just 2 second chance points while the Orange out-rebounded them by 10.
The Orange took a 17-point lead early in the second half before Connecticut began to climb back into this one. The Huskies started clicking once they attacked the inside. They began hitting Smith or Oriakhi at the high post and suddenly their offense looked much better. Fab Melo had the choice of either jumping out to prevent the open jumper or stay home to prevent the feed to Andre Drummond. Neither choice was very effective. Not only did they nail a few of those shots but even when they missed they were able to get the offensive rebound because the defense had to extend out. In the second half, UConn secured 13 offensive rebounds resulting in 12 second chance points.
It was those same big guys that were the difference makers on the other end of the court as well. In the first half, Syracuse had no problems getting to the rim. Whether it was Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph or Scoop Jardine driving to the lane, the Connecticut big men rarely came over to offer help. Frankly, it was an embarrassing display for such a talented group. In the second half though, they got much more physical and those easy layups were contested and often times blocked.
But the deficit was just too large for Connecticut to overcome as Syracuse remained poised and pulled out another close one. I'm beginning to feel comfortable with these types of games. In past years, the Orange would've blown at least one of the past four games but now I expect them to pull them out. Does that mean it won't bite them sometime soon? Who knows. But there is something to be said for how they have won in a variety of different ways and never seem to lose their cool.
-Ever since Kris Joseph nearly scored half of Syracuse's points against Georgetown a few weeks ago, he has looked like a different player. Sure, he had an awful game against Louisville but so did everyone. Even against South Florida where he shot 5-for-17 he was at least aggressive. He seems to be playing with more confidence and has demonstrated some fundamental moves in the post and has been taking people off the dribble on the perimeter. He has now hit 14 of his last 30 3-point attempts after suffering through that awful stretch in January. This team is much more dangerous when Joseph is involved in the offense and remains in attack mode.
-After the South Florida game Boeheim mentioned trying to get the bench players more playing time. It sounded good but when exactly would he do it? Against UConn AT UConn with the Big East title still in the balance (at the time)? Against Louisville on senior night? In the Big East tournament? But Boeheim stayed true to his word and Michael Carter-Williams played 7 minutes in the first half and James Southerland played 15 minutes. Both players were key contributors with MCW tallying a couple of assists and draining a 3-pointer (he definitely did not call bank on that one) and Southerland scoring 7 points. Southerland got a couple buckets right around the basket and also had a huge swat on Andre Drummond. See what happens when a 6'8 player with incredible hops isn't afraid to get into the paint and stops jacking up 3-pointers?