kcleach's Blog

Mountaineers’ Truck breaks down before East Regional

The Syracuse regional has the Big Red, the Big Blue, and now the Big Hurt. West Virginia lost its point guard to a foot injury yesterday; yet as they’ve done all season, keep rolling with the punches.

It’s February 23, 2002 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Rochester is playing at Carnegie Mellon University in the final regular season game.

The Yellowjackets (21-4) need the victory to assure the at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament. I was a senior wing on Rochester, and with the game tied at 11-11, point guard Tim Sweeney (now an assistant coach at Elon University) got the outlet pass and passed the ball to me streaking up the sideline.

Turning to catch the ball in front of the CMU bench, I get bumped by the referee running alongside me. One awkward step later the fifth metatarsal on my foot is broken, and I’m sprawled on the Tartan bench. 

My basketball career was over.

Fast-forward eight years later to the bowels of the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Four Division I teams prepare for the upcoming East Regional with a shoot-around and press conferences. The No. 2 seed in this side of the bracket is West Virginia, the Big East tournament champion, and they will face No. 11 seed Washington at 7:27 p.m. on Thursday night.

Top seed Kentucky takes on No. 12 seed, and media darling, Cornell, in the second game of the East Regional, set to tip at 9:57 p.m.

Dressed in practice blues and yellows, six Mountaineers crowded the podium with smiles and jokes Wednesday afternoon, similar to their hotel room entertainment. The jovial mood was striking, given the Tuesday’s announcement that point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant broke a bone in his foot and is out for the season. The injured bone is that dreaded fifth metatarsal.

My heart sinks as I watch Bryant (pictured right) crutch to the dais. The memories rush back in.

I spent the three weeks after that fall in Pittsburgh, limping a walking boot as we roll to the Division III Final Four in Salem, Virginia. The Rochester media played up the storyline, while I serve as team comedian and pseudo-assistant coach.

On Wednesday it was Bryant, with head phones propped on his head like horns, that soothed everyone’s fears, and kept this dance going.

“When I first saw (Bryant), he was walking with his crutches and you see this big smile,” said West Virginia star Da’Sean Butler. “He kind of put it on the backburner. Granted he is hurt and it sucks, but at the same time, he’s in good spirits about everything and he’s fine.”

Bryant, under the barrage of questions, upheld the sunny disposition: “Of course I want to play. The lights are on. It’s a big time of year. I just wanted to be a part of it. I believe in my team and I know they’ll get it done.”

Head coach Bob Huggins disagreed about the source of his team’s light-hearted approach, and it was a result of “being around my effervescent personality all the time.”

Huggins the comedian will quickly become the decision maker, choosing between going with five forwards or re-inserting Joe Mazzulla as the point guard. (Bryant had replaced Mazzulla in 2008-09 when the latter developed an injury early in the season). “We’re still trying to figure out which is the best direction to go.

The decision needs to be made fast, and could be based on speed. West Virginia’s opponent, No. 11 seed Washington, enter Thursday night’s game averaging nearly 80 points per game with a break-neck offense.

All that doesn’t bother Huggins: “I think playing in our league you play against every style that there is to play against. There’s not a whole lot that people can throw at us that we haven’t seen before. We’ve guarded everything from the Princeton offense to people trying to score 100 points a game. ”

Even if they fall behind the Huskies on Thursday night, the Mountaineers have inspiration seated on the bench in the form of Bryant. His dancing buddy, Butler, put it into words:

“There’s no reason to get uptight and panic and do what everybody wants us to do.”

OK, Da’Sean, I’ll relax.

Orange open NCAA tourney by vanquishing Vermont

Top-seeded Syracuse shook off naysayers and upset watchers, dominating No. 16 seed Catamounts, 79-56.


The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a new start for 65 teams. Teams get a coveted bid, push the re-set button, and go about making adjustments.

The top seeds usually need little adjustment, but Syracuse’s first No. 1 seed in 30 years came with strings attached. After winning 28 games and the Big East regular season title, Orange head coach Jim Boeheim had a to-do list that include: insert a new rotation, weather the team’s longest layoff in four months, and exorcise the Vermont demons from 2005.

Boeheim and the Orange opened the 2010 NCAA tournament by imposing its size and talent in a 79-56 win over the No. 16 seed Catamounts (25-10). To date, Syracuse has 11 wins over teams receive bids to the post-season championship (others include Robert Morris, Cornell, California, Florida, Oakland, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova).

Syracuse advances to the second round, and will face No. 8 seed Gonzaga (26-6), 67-60 winners over Florida State, on Sunday in Buffalo, N.Y. Tip-off time is 12:10 p.m. EST.

On Saturday, the Orange had five players score in double figures, shot 54% as a team, handed out 24 assists, and ho-hummed its way into the second round. Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson led all scorers with 18 points while Andy Rautins covered the stat sheet with 11 points, eight rebounds, and six assists.

The two-time American East Player of the Year, Vermont senior Marqus Blakely, paced the Catamounts with 17 points, nine rebounds, several highlight dunks, and a pair of media table clearing leaps.

Even as Syracuse adjusted to life without senior center Arinze Onuaku, sitting out Friday with an injured quad sustained against Georgetown at the Big East tournament last week, the Orange played its normal game: open huge lead with a crisp offense, block opponents shots that start fast-breaks, rest on laurels for five minutes, turn the ball over, and then resume seriousness, overwhelm opponent for victory.

“Everyone had to step up,” SU guard Brandon Triche told SUathletics.com when asked about playing without Onuaku. “And we did tonight.”

Friday’s offensive output started with a big dunk by new starter Kris Joseph. The 7-0 Orange run extended on a Rautins deep triple. Johnson showed off his dual-threat ability with a huge block on one end, and buttery jumpers on the other.

Energetic Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine entered the game with a warm welcome by the pseudo-home crowd at HSBC Arena (about 3 hours from SU), and immediately led the Orange on a scoring binge. He crossed over Vermont guard Nick Vier at 6:39, scored the lay-up and made the ensuing free throw for a 34-10 Orange lead.

Trademark SU apathy set in as Vermont rattled of a 15-2 run highlighted by a couple of monster dunks by Blakely. The score read 37-25 at halftime, and everyone wearing orange was restless.

“At halftime, we spoke about it as a team,” Joseph told SUathletics.com following the game. “Coach (Boeheim) spoke about it, let us know we weren’t doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Fret not, SU faithful, where there is a will, there is a Rautins. The senior shooting guard opened up the second half with two deep 3s to start half, and Vermont would not sniff closer than 14 points. The hot outside shooting (Syracuse made 10 of 22 attempts from beyond the arc), combined with stingy SU defense (eight blocks, 34% shooting by Vermont), created little thought of any more adjustments and just started the preparation for Gonzaga.

Orange forward Rick Jackson has 12 points, eight rebounds, and the calming quote of the night: “We were sitting around waiting for 9:30 p.m. to come. It’s here, we got a win, now let’s move on.”


Friday Five - NCAA edition

This is the ninth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. The first round continues today with another full slate of games, capped tonight by Syracuse making its first appearance.

The NCAA Tournament is the re-set button for the college basketball season. The Big East Conference saw half of its members receive bids to the Big Dance, but after one crazy day, three of the 8 teams have been sent home.

The five storylines:

1 -             West Virginia was worthy of a No. 1 seed, but the struggle will be keeping interest against Morgan State. Let’s call it Villanova-itis. The Wildcats played like they should be get the red carpet, and head coach Jay Wright took a gamble by discplining guards Scottie Reynolds and Corrie Fisher with a benching. Now’s not the time to rest on past laurels or make statements, each game is do-or-die mentality.

2 -            Pittsburgh, a team that this writer has in his Final Four bracket (follow the Halftime Snack bracket challenge), is located near the Oakland section of the western Pennsylvania city. That’s all we got. Oakland (the team from Michigan, not California) is in the tournament for the first time in five years, and gets the fleet and physical Panthers.

3 -            Georgetown has three NBA-caliber players, but little team cohesion. That’s remarkable considering the offense is predicated on reads, not set plays, and they had a chance to bond around the diagnosis of diabetes in guard Austin Freeman.

4 -             This #4 spot is reserved for Syracuse, and specifically, Wes Johnson. A rare starting lineup change for the Orange has Kris Joseph out there for the tip (replacing injured Arinze Onuaku). Johnson loves the lime light and will look to get going early against Vermont. Opponents always underestimate the elevation and poise on Johnson’s catch-and-shoot from the right side of the floor.  

5-             The No.8-No.9 games don’t get as much publicity as the sexy 5-12 games, but Louisville/California is full of storylines. Our favorite is the coaches: California’s Mike Montgomery and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. Both had success in college (Stanford and Kentucky, respectively), bumbled in the NBA and then returned to the college game to in-state rivals of their former squads. The game tilts in the Cardinals’ favor with Montgomery having to suspend his starting forward, Omondi Amoke.

Big East predictions:

Pittsburgh 74, Oakland 68
Louisville 78, California 70
Syracuse 84, Vermont 65

(Editor’s Note: West Virginia game was concluded when this was posted)

Please NCAA, anyone but Vermont

The 65-team NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament field was released on Sunday night, and the No. 4-ranked Syracuse Orange received their first No. 1 seed in 30 years. Syracuse (28-4) should pull up a chair at that complaint table with fellow upstate N.Y. schools Cornell and Siena.

The Syracuse University basketball wants to forever forget two memorable upsets in their NCAA history. The most memorable was in 1991 when the Orangemen, led by stars Adrian Autry and Billy Owens, became the first No. 2 seed to lose in the first round after losing to No. 15 seed Richmond, 73-69. The game was broadcast on CBS in prime time, setting the shock tones of March Madness reverberating across the country. Luckily, the Spiders, a No. 7 seed in 2010, are across the bracket in the South Region.

The other forgettable upset occurred in 2005, when Syracuse entered the tournament as a No. 4 seed. The Orange had Big East Player of the Year Hakim Warrick and, of course, G-Mac. The Orange drew 13th-seed Vermont and famously fell to the Catamounts and mop-topped forward Taylor Coppenwrath, 60-57. Catamount head coach Tom Brennan thought so much of the victory, that he took that moment to quite while he was on top, retiring after a second-round loss.

The Orange and Catamounts meet again on Friday night in Buffalo at 9:30 p.m. If Syracuse keeps this Vermont ghoul in the closet, the road to the West Regional championship will involve just one more exorcism—that is Pittsburgh, a team that topped the Orange on January 2.

In previous years, the NCAA committees have looked for these mid-majors to play big away games to gain respectability. I guess barely losing at Kansas and winning at an SEC school wasn’t enough to vault Cornell out of a #12 seed. A small consolation for the Big Red is should they make the Sweet Sixteen, the games will be played an hour from campus at the Carrier Dome.

Cornell matches up with another team that got little respect, the Temple Owls, who got little reward for its third straight A-10 championship. Mentor (Temple coach Fran Dunphy) meets pupil (Big Red coach Steven Donahue) in an attempt to make an intriguing first-round game. Read Phil Sheridan’s profile in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer to find out the most intriguing Temple player: Argentine guard Juan Fernandez.

As for Siena, kicking a small dog is not just, NCAA. The Saints wasn’t apart of the NCAA cost-saving measures despite being the darlings of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Siena was handed plane tickets to Spokane, Washington. UCLA flew the farthest in 2009 (over 3,000 miles to Philadelphia), and still hasn’t recovered.

May the best ghoul win.

For complete NCAA tournament information, click here.

Friday Five - Big East edition

The Big East Tournament has its final four teams ready to battle in primetime with the semifinals tonight in Madison Square Garden, followed by the championship on Saturday night. That’s the good news. The bad news is Friday’s action will be the day fans remember.

The Big East tournament is alive and kicking. Syracuse, Villanova, and Pittsburgh, three of the top four seeds are home resting for the Big Dance. So what's left?

The five storylines:

1 -             The KO of A.O. Orange fans feigned apathy on campus Friday afternoon, focusing on the spring break exodus more so than the Big East tournament.  Losing in this championship would have minimal impact on the bigger goal (a national championship), they said. They were right: no one cares about the loss to Georgetown, all eyes are focused on Friday’s MRI of senior Arinze Onuaku’s right knee. The availability of A.O. (below) is the key to a deep Syracuse run. Without production from the post, teams can focus on taking away the Orange’s ability to shoot deep jumpers. The latest A.O. info by Mike Waters from The Post-Standard.

Arinze Onuaku
Photo by Jamie De Pould

2 -            The best of the rest. West Virginia is the stable pick to take home the Big East Tournament championship.  Steady star D’Sean Butler topped the highlight reel after he banked in a 3-pointer to beat Cincinnati on Thursday night, but his name easily could been engraved on the Player of the Year trophy. Combine his versatility with that of teammates Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks, and the defense becomes a scramble.

3 -            Different dog each night. Pete Thamel of The New York Times called Georgetown “as predictable as lottery numbers.” When all three Hoya guns are firing (center Greg Monroe, forward Austin Freeman, and guard Chris Wright), Georgetown is a top-five team. When one gun gets jammed, amazingly the Hoyas look like Connecticut. We see Georgetown playing strong in one of the next two games, but which one will it be?

4 -             Marq-ed birds. Marquette has always shot the ball from beyond the arc with accuracy, even its big men (see Buffalo native Lazar Hayward on Thursday) can drill deep jumpers. Armed with the most accurate shooter in the conference (Darius Johnson-Odom) and a ton of Buzz (head coach Williams, that is), the Eagles need to let ‘em fly to top the Hoyas.

5-             Re-count? Every coach in the country should take note of teams that take a top scorer out of the starting lineup, and use that player as a sixth man. Basketball is a momentum game with scoring runs, timeouts, and hot shooting streaks that need to be avoided or exploited. When Notre Dame senior Luke Harangody went down with an injury late in the season, it gave head coach Mike Brey a chance to beat the team-first drum. Once his leading scorer regained his health, Brey resisted returning ‘Gody to the starting lineup and the team has won six straight games  

Big East tourney predictions:

Georgetown 79, Marquette 71 / West Virginia 64, Notre Dame 61

Final: West Virginia 79, Georgetown 71

Cardinals ring up win over Orange at Freedom Hall finale

A hot shooter, a big ceremony and past history swirled around Syracuse Saturday afternoon, and the No. 1 Orange lost at Louisville, 78-68, in the regular season finale for both teams.

The perfect storm brewed in Kentucky and swept away the Orange on Saturday afternoon.

Led by a scintillating second-half shooting performance from reserve guard Kyle Kuric, unranked Louisville defeated top-ranked Syracuse for the second time in three weeks. A 78-68 victory in the final game ever at historic Freedom Hall gave the Cardinals (20-11, 11-7 Big East) a No. 6 seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament.

Syracuse (28-3, 15-3) is still locked in as the top seed in the Big East Tournament and assured of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Orange as top seed earned a double-bye to the 16-team tournament and play on Thursday at noon in Madison Square Garden. With the win, Louisville earned a first-round bye; they play Wednesday at 9 p.m. Official Big East Tournament Web site.

Saturday’s game exhibited the prestige of Freedom Hall, host to four Final Fours in its 54 years, and a vibrant crowd (a record 20,135 fans), as well as a host of famous alums creating tension on the floor.

“I’ve coached in two national championship games and didn’t feel pressure,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino following the game. “Tonight I felt pressure.”

The pressure piled on at halftime, with the Cardinals down five points (35-30) and the Orange shooting at its normal torrid pace (51.7 percent). Things only got worse for the home team: its leading scorer from the first half, guard Jerry Smith (eight points), emerged from the locker room with his shooting hand heavily bandaged. He would not return to the game.

Syracuse built a three-point lead with a steady diet of post feeds. Junior Rick Jackson found room at the top of the lane and scored five points in two minutes. His twisting jumper at 15:32 put the Orange up, 42-39, and incited the crowd. Several of Jackson’s moves involved the dreaded charge/block call, and each whistle went Syracuse University’s way.

The booing and hissing from the Louisville faithful got louder and louder with each call, but that noise instantly turned into cheers when Kuric, inserted at 16:11, threw down an emphatic two-hand jam at 14:25 to get the Cardinals within one point.

Two possessions later, Kuric snuck behind Jackson holding the basketball in the high post. The Louisville sophomore poked the ball away and outraced Orange guard Andy Rautins for another layup and a 45-42 lead for home team.

Louisville continued to fire away from three-point land (they attempted 40 on the day, sinking 12). Guard Peyton Siva hit one and then Kuric swished a deep shot of his own. The run reached 16-8 and the Cardinals held a 55-48 lead.

“(Kuric) made a couple of tough shots and I think he got a couple of layups in transition,” said SU head coach Jim Boeheim (pictured). “That always helps you get going, and he knocked down a couple."

The Orange offense became stale in the second half, and the jumpers SU settled for no longer found their mark. The No. 1 team in the country hit just 36.1 percent (12 of 33) in the second half from the floor, and missed six attempts from the line.

Rautins, the SU team leader, was held to just three points on 1-of-9 shooting with five turnovers in 38 minutes.

The Cardinals hit nearly 60 percent of its shots in the second half, including a 9-of-11 performance from Kuric. The sophomore ended up with a game-high 22 points and etched his name into Freedom Hall history forever with an alley-oop dunk that sealed the victory at 2:44.

The pre-game pressure showed on the players, as the teams were scoreless for the first 2:51 of the game. Smith broke the ice with a 3-pointer at 17:09.

Syracuse took control of the game late in the first half on their best pressure release of late: sophomore guard Scoop Jardine. The bouncy Jardine is full of confidence these days, scoring nine points with four assists in the first 20 minutes.

Jardine hit a tear drop at 10:27 and then fed senior center Arinze Onuaku for a dunk. The Orange tied the game at 15-15 with 9:35 after Jardine spun out of a half-court trap and threw a no-look feed to Onuaku.

Jardine finished with a team-high 20 points and six assists.

The Orange, and the rest of the Big East, are looking toward the Tuesday start of the 2010 championship tournament.

"Every game will be tough,” Boeheim said. “It's a nightmare. It'll be a great tournament with great games. We have a lot of good teams so any team can win.”

Photo: Zach Ornitz

Friday Five - Eighth edition

This is the eighth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. This final weekend of regular season play whets the palate for the upcoming Big East Championship. Who you taking with you?

Halftime Snack picks the top five in the Big East. The regular season play ends for the Conference on Saturday, and as all 16 teams prepare to head to 7th Avenue, Halftime Snack picked a squad to take to Madison Square Garden:

The starting five:

1 -             Scottie Reynolds from Villanova is the point guard of this squad. Traditionally, Halftime Snack is not comfortable with having the offense led by the score-first lead guard, but Reynolds cannot be left off the floor. Plus, this team’s shooting guard has that assist-per-game rate (4.8) missing from the point.

2 -            Transition right to the most valuable player in the Big East, Orange senior Andy Rautins. The best shooter in the Big East, Rautins squares up on 3-pointers a foot behind the line, that was a foot farther than the old line. After playing international basketball with Canada in the summer, Rautins became more than a gunner. You know about his offense, but it’s Rautins' defense that sets the tone in the Orange zone (conference-leading 2.1 steals per contest).

3 -            Halftime Snack has wanted to play Wes Johnson, Syracuse forward, at his future NBA position since October. Get this leaper out and running a lane, then let him reverse pivot and shoot jumpers until his heart is content. Speaking of reverse pivot, this team will also run ball screens from the wing with Wes (pictured below) involved. The adjustment: Wes sets the screen and then pops out for jumper. Easy points.

Wes Johnson
Photo: Andrew Burton

4 -             Herb Pope from Seton Hall rebounds the ball at 11 per game, with nearly two blocks per game; the rebound/block combination of Wes and Pope wins the possession battle. We love having that one guy on the floor not energized by scoring the ball.

5 -             Notre Dame post Luke Harangody slides into the center spot. Does anybody have so many moves and execute the simple ones time and time again for easy buckets? Tim Duncan at Wake Forest? Christian Laettner at Duke? Antawn Jamison at North Carolina? Gody has a goofy nickname and a goofy look to his game, but few can stop it. Read Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated write about Harangody's ascension.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange:  Louisville ruined Valentine’s Day for a lot of people in Onondaga County. The Orange love playing on the road and like to ruin parties, too. Freedom Hall is ready to close, so Shut It Down!  (Syracuse 76, Louisville 75)

Other Big East games:

DePaul 69, St. John’s 67
Georgetown 65, Cincinnati 64
Villanova 87, West Virginia 81
Connecticut 79, USF 77
Pittsburgh 74, Rutgers 69
SHU 86, Providence 82

National Scene: Carolina at Duke. If you watch college basketball, you know this game has implications, regardless of rankings, ACC standings or the economic climate. Duke 81, Carolina 80. Tar Heels stay in the game on emotion, but Duke guard Jon Scheyer makes case for league POY with high-scoring final five minutes.

Record last week: 3-5
Overall: 37-24

Stat nerd stat of the week: 

Players changing jersey numbers always drove Halftime Snack nuts. Computer stat programs are predicated on number corresponding to player, and stat nerds need those numbers to translate the coding. Seeing baseball players wearing No. 71, No. 69, No. 63 scrambles our brains. Good can come of it – Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine switched to No. 11 (or swiped from Paul Harris ASAP) and is playing like a top-level guard, a slimming down from his old No. 33.

They said it:

“My grandma, she loves Syracuse, but she LOVES Villanova. Everytime she calls me, she be like, ‘Did you see Reynolds?’ She knows their whole team.” Orange guard Scoop Jardine, a Philadelphia native, after the win over Villanova on Saturday.

Nah.” SU junior forward Wes Johnson told The Post-Standard when asked if he played his last home game against St. John’s on Tuesday night.

Coach (Bob) Knight said this today, and I’ve said this a few times: Everybody has players. There’re good players on every team. Every team in the country, really every team in our league.” SU head coach Jim Boeheim following 'Nova game.

Listen to your coach, Syracuse

The Orange men's basketball team is the top-ranked team in the country for the first time since 1990. Head coach Jim Boeheim says it's time to stop celebrating, and Halftime Snack thinks fans should listen up.

College basketball fans are emotional, narrow-minded, and hard of hearing. In other words: just like the players. The blood pressure is rising, the sweaty bodies are banging around, and you never want the passion to be in question. And then you ignore your coach.

The current Orange squad, more talented and balanced than many can remember, and is 27-2 beacuse they believed in the system the head coach set up. The result: Syracuse received the top ranking in both major college basketball polls released on Monday.

What does the team’s Hall of Fame coach think the program’s return to the top spot after 20 years?

“It doesn’t matter at all in our game where you’re rated,” Jim Boeheim (pictured) interrupted a reporter’s talking about losses by No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky after his team beat No. 7 Villanova. “Just does not matter.

“If it were football, I’d be really happy right here. I just try and hold on for a couple more games and then we’d be in the national championship. That’d be a great thing, wouldn’t it?”

Boeheim, ever present of his audience (which was over 100 media members Saturday night), shot a knowing glance at Pete Thamel, SU alum and The New York Times college football writer, seated in the front row of the gather media. (Check out Thamel’s take on the Dome atmosphere)

Photo: Andrew Burton

So what? Syracuse has bragging rights over not just the Big East, and the rest of the nation. Why would they listen to the coach? What about the other times no one listened to Boeheim:

On Media Day this past October, he said Wes Johnson was the best player on his team, last year. Now Johnson is on everyone’s Player of the Year list.

In 2006, when local media called Gerry McNamara ‘overrated.’ (WARNING: link contains foul language)

The LeMoyne exhibition loss in November. Boeheim: “I’m not concerned about anything except this team (and) getting this team ready. Period. That’s it. Nothing else.”

When this blog called for Scoop Jardine to start over freshman Brendan Triche.

Stick with Coach Boeheim, fans. He’s been here for almost 34 years, won a national championship, and the court does have his name on it.

“I love it when people are excited about our team, it’s a great thing. I like it when they’re talking about it,” Boeheim said after the Villanova game Saturday night. Whatever they want to talk about, most of it doesn’t make too much sense usually, but it’s good. It’s kind like what Pete (Thamel) writes some of the times; it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I’m sure it does to him.”

Take the faith a step further, and support a trio of ideas Boeheim has in the queue right now: expand the NCAA Tournament from 64 teams to a 96-team field, resist the urge to turn the Dome into a 50,000-seat basketball stadium, and support the children.

All winning ideas.

Follow Halftime Snack and the rest of the Versus sport team on Twitter.

Friday Five - Nova edition

This is the seventh installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. The regular season championship hangs in the balance as No. 8 Villanova heads to snow-bound No. 4 Syracuse.

The first year in the new decade is not a leap year and we are without that 29th day in February. This will not keep Halftime Snack from taking a few leaps:

Starting five:

1 -             Syracuse guard Brandon Triche leaves for the NBA after his junior year. The 6-foot 4 inch, 200 lb freshman posses all the ingredients needed to cook up a top-flight player: strength, shooting touch (51% from the floor this season), and the apprenticeship on a top-ranked team.  Triche (pictured) will be the floor leader of the new SU dynasty, sure to continue with the incoming freshman class and the return of potential All-Big East performers Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson.

(Photo: Andrew Burton)

2 -            More SU departures: embattled wing Mookie Jones will transfer. The root of the lone dissention on this year’s squad (see Headbandgate) can’t find the court in Big East play of late, and now news of a broken digit. It’s a shame; cause Mookie shown plenty of promise at Archbold pick-up games.

3 -            Forward Devin Ebanks from West Virginia would be the Big East Player of the Year in 2011, if he stays in school.  The impending NBA lockout makes Devin’s decision more complicated each day as being a 6’9” wing no longer translates to NBA riches. Don’t leap, Devin. Don’t be Thabeet.

4 -             The 2011 All-Star Dunk contest needs to include Syracuse forward Wes Johnson and Connecticut forward Stanley Robinson.  Both appear to have the springs to take off from the free throw line, and even join Dwight Howard on the elevated 11-foot rim. Enough with the midget circus, let’s get back to seeing how high the flyers can leap.

5-             All of college basketball’s attention is on the Carrier Dome for this Saturday’s battle between Syracuse and Villanova, so let’s leap into the fray with a reminder the next-best thing in Big East basketball is on the way: Fab Melo. Brush on fun Melo 2.0 facts (desire to play for native Brazil in 2016 Olympics) in this ESPN RIse article.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: This column is accused of anti-Syracuse basis for much of the year, and to fellow grad student Michael Masucci, here’s another shot: Villanova 85, Syracuse 81 The Wildcats have won 6 of the last 7 meetings with the Orange, possess the firepower to outscore Syracuse and have built in their own signature defensive trappings (a variety of zone presses that invite turnovers). The game will come down to the last three minutes and each team’s ability to stop the league’s top two penetrators, SU’s Kris Joseph and Nova’s Scottie Reynolds.

Other Big East games:

Georgetown 74, Notre Dame 64
Pittsburgh 73, St. John’s 67
West Virginia 81, Cincinnati 71
DePaul 67, Rutgers 66
USF 81, Providence 79
Seton Hall 79, Marquette 74
UCONN 84, Louisville 72

National Scene: All college basketball attention should be this weekend is the Carrier Dome, let’s take a look at the Big Head fad. Over/under on Big Heads bobbing the Dome on Saturday is set at 10 (and I’m not talking about Brent Musburger).

Record last week: 5-2
Overall: 34-19

Stat nerd stat of the week – The tide has turned for Halftime Snack’s basketball beat, now writing about roundball royalty (Orange lead Division I by making 52 percent of shot attempts). Last season, we covered the Swarthmore College Garnet, a Division III team from suburban Philadelphia. The Garnet concluded the 2009-10 regular season with a strangle hold as the worst shooters in NCAA men’s college basketball teams—they rank last out of 1,008 teams in field goal percentage (34.3). Division II’s poorest shooters are Texas Permian Basin (37.2), and Division I lists Alcorn State (also 37.2) as its top bricklayers. The best shooting team in all of the NCAA: Swarthmore’s classroom rival, Williams (Mass.) College at 52.9 percent.

They said it: “Guys, we need to make shots to win the game. Just make shots!” longtime Swarthmore head coach Lee Wimberly during a Centennial game in 2008.

Thank you. We are happy today to bring this game to you from New York State and the county of Onondaga. And just because I’m rooting for the Senators, I’m here with Joe Morabito who also helped to sponsor this event, and the First Lady of the State, Michelle B. Trousain, graduate of Syracuse University. We don’t care who wins this game, as long as it’s the Crunch.” Gov. David Paterson, ever the double-talker, at the Mirabito Outdoor Classic on Feb. 20 as boos drowned out his pre-game address. Times are tough for Paterson.

Follow Halftime Snack author Kyle C. Leach on Twitter, and catch the latest SU athletics updates @NewsHouseSports.

Friday Five - Sixth Edition

This is the sixth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. Stand up fans, the next month are what make college basketball so special.

What goes up, must come down, right? The warm weather and hot basketball teams pushed the winter doldrums back a few months, raising Syracuse’s spirits. But now the snow is falling every day and night, and the hoopsters are walking a chilly line as tournament berths and seedings are decided. Who falls, who rises?

The starting five:

1 -             It’s fashionable to bash the Connecticut Huskies this year, a team that lost its leading scorer (point guard A.J. Price), its muscle (four-year starting forward Jeff Adrien) and a 7-foot, three-inch tree (Hasheem Thabeet). New point Kemba Walker has finally taken ownership of this floundering group, averaging 21.5 points with 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals in two games against Syracuse and Villanova, two of the top teams in the country.

2 -            It’s not safe to run with the bulls, is what I heard. So what if the best player in the Big East is a member of South Florida’s squad? Bulls' guard  Dominique Jones is suddenly unstoppable for USF, since scoring 46 points in an overtime win at Providence, Jones averaged 27.4 points in seven games, burning a path to the free throw stripe (65-for-85, 78 percent). But is he the new Jeremy Hazell? Lots of shots to get the point: not really: Jones is hitting at 46 percent clip from the floor and the Bulls have rattled off wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Seton Hall and Cincinnati.

3 -            There are three simple reasons that SU coach Jim Boeheim struggles to beat his former assistant coach Rick Pitino (Pitino won five in a row), who is one spin up the color wheel as the head coach at Louisville Cardinals. One: Pitino’s charges press the entire game, wearing on the physical condition of the opponent; two: Pitino changed college basketball by putting the offensive focus on the shot with an extra point, a definite zone buster; and three, aggressive post defense with fronting and concentrated off-side help.

4 -             Break it down, Wes: The season has it’s parts: the Smile in the City of Lights, the Fall Awaking All Your Frights, and the Swollen Hand of Bad Shooting Nights. Wes played the hero role last Thursday, making a pair of big free throws against Connecticut.

5-             Halftime Snack has searched for a pivot push-off all season, finally finding one in the Mississippi State/Kentucky game on Tuesday night. The matchup between senior swatmaster, James Varnado from MSU, against the freshman phoner, DeMarcus Cousins. Youth won out as Cousins did his Wilt Chamberlain-impersonation, grabbing an offensive rebound at one point and bouncing up to slam the ball on the Bulldogs. Halftime Snack was disappointed in Varnado, a talented shot blocker. The Bulldog bigman kept reaching and broke the vertical plane (defender must stand straight up to avoid fouling), basic principles in the art of shot blocking. Ensuing foul trouble kept Varnado on the bench as Cousins (19 points) and the Wildcats stole the win in overtime, 81-75, in a game Miss. State should have won. Varnado needed to be on the floor, especially with the Bulldogs missing leading scorer Ravern Johnson, who was serving a suspension.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: Syracuse has just a trip to Rhode Island on Tuesday on the slate over the next week, giving the team time to heal up some bruises before the big Nova game. Oh, trap. Is this Providence team trap-worthy? At this point, every team the Orange plays is in the game at some point, but don’t look for the upset. Syracuse 78, Providence 68.

Other Big East games:

USF 80, St. John's 77
West Virginia 74, Seton Hall 70
Louisville 76, DePaul 62
Rutgers 78, Connecticut 77
Villanova 73, Pittsburgh 72
Marquette 70, Cincinnati 67

National Scene: Ohio State at Michigan State is the cherry on top of this latest string of tasty Big Ten games (Purdue at OSU, Wisconsin at Minnesota). The Spartans are a half-game ahead of the Boilermakers, and a full game ahead of the Buckeyes, in the conference regular season standings with a home win going a long way toward getting the top seed in the postseason tournament. The Spartans sputtered when Kailin Lucas went down with an injury, but road wins at Penn State and Indiana can be glorified scrimmages at this stage. Regardless, let’s pick the road team with superstar Evan Turner: Ohio State 77, MSU 71

Record last week: 4-4
Overall: 29-17

Statnerd stat of the week – Free throw shooting can win games. Look at the team ranked 255th out of 334 Division I schools (a certain tangerine-tinted team), shooting 27-for-30 (90 percent) in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night. Hitting at 65.8 percent entering the game, the Orange kept A.O. off the charity stripe and converted the freebies. Conversely, Georgetown (ranked 122nd with a 70.4 percentage) missed eight free throws, including four big ones down the stretch.

They said It:Is this the Kentucky North, what is this?” UL head coach Rick Pitino trying to calm Orange Nation after SU fell to the Cardinals on Feb. 14. “The University of Louisville is not chopped liver, (SU) fans should not roll in the snow and get really cold.”

"Let’s just tape a sign to the door that says its ‘Opposite Day.’" Michael Scott, manager-turned-salesman-turned-manager, on NBC’s The Office.

He’s the key to our whole team,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim talking about senior guard Andy Rautins following the Georgetown game.