kcleach's Blog

Kris’ cross makes Orange jump, jump!

Fifth-ranked Syracuse (25-2, 12-2 Big East) remained unblemished on the road this season, holding off No. 10 Georgetown (18-7, 8-6), 75-71, in Washington, D.C. Thursday night. It was Syracuse’s first win on the Hoyas’ floor since 2004.

It was opposite night at the Verizon Center. And with one quick Kris Joseph crossover, it was back to the Same-Game for Syracuse:  one team has a huge lead, lead evaporates, Orange win, masses complain about officials.

In the Carrier Dome on Jan. 25, it was the Hoyas who smacked SU in the face with a 14-0 run at the start of the game, led by sharpshooting guard Austin Freeman. On Thursday night in the nation’s capital, it was the Orange who opened an early 14-point advantage as their sharpshooter, senior captain Andy Rautins, punched in 10 early points.

Before Vice President Joe Biden (1969 SU law school grad) and an orange-tinted crowd of 19,976, the SU lead grew as large as 23 (60-37, 2nd half). Then it happened again, just like against UConn and Louisville: the Orange see a lead evaporate, final seconds appear on clock and Kris Joseph steps Kris Joseph driving against Louisville.into the light.

In the win over UConn, Joseph (pictured) released deep on the in-bounds against full-court pressure, got intentionally fouled and made the game-sealing free throws. Against Louisville on Sunday, Joseph scored four late points to get the Orange within two but then fouled Jerry Smith hard enough for the referee to signal an intentional foul. The Cardinals would steal the victory on Valentine’s Day.

Thursday night, the Orange (25-2, 12-2 Big East) held on to a thread-thin 71-70 lead and the ball. The Hoyas chose not to foul (there was six seconds between the game and shot clock) and Syracuse gave the ball to Joseph. The springy sophomore, who played prep school ball at Archbishop Carroll in D.C., snapped off a quick crossover dribble on Hoya center Greg Monroe, and dashed to the rim for the lay-up.

Rautins, who lead all scorers with 26 points, was hot to start the second half, using a 1-move (single dribble of catch, right into a jump shot) going left to can a pair of triples. Syracuse opened a 19-point lead with Rautins’ second three-ball in as many possessions, and most of the national TV audience (including ESPN’s Dick Vitale), thought the game was over.

                                                                                                            (Photo by Zach Ornitz)

The son of SU great Leo Rautins, Andy Rautins moved into second place all-time at Syracuse with 251 3-pointers (moving past Preston Shumpert).

At this point, all the Hoyas (18-7, 8-6) had to their credit was more foul trouble – superstar Monroe picked up two fouls early in the first half, imploring head coach John Thompson III to go offense-defense with Monroe. The big Louisianan notched his third foul at the start of the second half and the groans filled the MCI Center.

Freeman was ice cold, missing an easy 3-pointer from straight on that barely hit the left iron. He would finish nine-of-20 from the field with 21 points.

ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews reported mid-game that SU forward Wes Johnson did not slap high-five with teammates, protecting his hand. It worked in the first half to the tune of 10 points, six rebounds and five blocks. It was a different story in the second half, as the Hoyas’ limited Johnson to just two points on two free throws (he finished with 16 points, eight boards and the five swats).

“It’s good. It’s getting better,” Johnson told Donna Ditota of The Post-Standard about his right hand. “I didn’t try to think about it as much when I was out there playing. But it’s getting better.”

The Orange turned to Rautins, its prizefighter (analogy goes well with new boxing trunks SU wears). The same sight of Rautins wriggling on the ground occurred Thursday: he got nailed on a screen (close to the family jewels), and then in the second half blocked a Chris Wright lay-up, but caught a wayward elbow in the nose. Rautins had little appreciation for Wright, jawing with the Hoya enough to earn both players a technical foul.

Georgetown found a pulse and snuck a 10-0 run past Syracuse. A Scoop Jardine turnover infuriated Boeheim into more yelling and time-out calling. All he wanted was to get Rautins the ball.

Rautins swung back with a deep 3-pointer (his fifth of the night) and the Orange went up 63-47 with over 8 minutes remaining.

With Biden looking nervous, and as pensive as the Dome has been all year, biting finger nails as the lead dwindled to eight points after a Clark corner 3-pointer.

Asleep for much of the game, Freeman got loose after a turnover by SU guard Brandon Triche for lay-up. The Orange, strapped by foul trouble, unveiled its matador defense and the Hoyas ohlayed by for a 25-3 run to get within 65-60. .

Freeman found an easy path to the rim past three SU defenders, going to the rim and converting the old-fashioned three-point play as the foul prone Orange parted like the Red Sea. Jackson picked up his fifth foul, receiving the disqualification with 12 points and eight boards.

The same transcript occurred on the next possession: SU turnover, Freeman fastbreak bucket (a monster one-hand dunk at 3:13), and more Orange timeouts with Boeheim yelling at people.

It was not long before both Orange big men fouled out, forcing just the second Big East appearance for SU freshman center DaShonte Riley. Monroe smelled blood, attacking the vulnerable Orange backline, yet could not convert at the charity stripe, missing four of five. Mistakes are contagious – SU gave up offensive rebounds on two occasions, the last Monroe got himself and called timeout with 1:07 left and the Orange up 71-70.

On the ensuing possession, Georgetown patiently swung the ball four times before dribble penetration by Wright created an open shot for Clark. His heave clanged off to the right, and the ball fell out-of-bounds. Up stepped Joseph with the game-winner (he accounted for five of the last six Orange points), and out stepped Syracuse with another road victory and the double-bye in the upcoming Big East Tournament.

“I faked left and went right and Monroe fell for the move,” Joseph told The Post-Standard. “I saw Chris Wright’s hand, so I kind of cradled the ball. By the time, I got to the basket, it was just me and the basket.”

NOTES: The last win in for the Orange in Washington, D.C. was in 2004 when Kueth Duany found Gerry McNamara curling on a screen for a miracle three-pointer and the win … As for the fellas in stripes, 54 free throws and 48 fouls kept the brake on this game…Wright was one of three Hoya scorers to tally 20 points (Monroe and Freeman the others), while posting a game-high five steals.

Friday Five – Lover’s Edition

This is the fifth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. Love it or leave it, let the emotion flow out.

This weekend is the time to love or to hate, Halftime Snack chooses to love:

The starting five: 
1 -  Kansas head coach Bill Self has the best point guard in the country, senior Sherron Collins. Collins has big-game experience, a cache full of offensive weapons for teammates, and can create baskets on his own. Think Jonny Flynn, formerly of Syracuse and currently on the Minnesota Timberwolves, wishes he was in Collins’ position? Read Jared Diamond’s column about Flynn in The Daily Orange and judge for yourself.
2 -  Time to throw out love to a fellow Section II (N.Y.) high school legend: As much as Halftime Snack loves Collins, John Wall, Kemba Walker and Scottie Reynolds, the best playmaker in the country might be BYU senior Jimmer Fredette. Fredette, a product of Glens Falls (N.Y.) High School has directed the Cougars to a 22-3 record by averaging 21.4 points per game and 4.9 assists per contest. BYU needs a big game by Fredette to right its ship Saturday again Air Force - the Cougars lost in their last game at UNLV.
3 -  Infamous former Syracuse wing Eric Devendorf landed a professional gig in New Zealand this past week. Famous for the shot that didn’t count and the assault allegations that didn’t stick, Devendorf’s new coach is calling his new spade a spade 
4 - The shiny star in the Orange sky, Wes Johnson, has dulled. The lack of luster is not Johnson’s doing, but the work of aggressive opposition: foul trouble hindered him at Cincinnati and the Fall, against Providence, created bruises. Johnson, ever resilient, emerged against Connecticut, sinking an array of jumpers and then two crucial free throws in the 72-67 victory.
5 -  Double the Kansas love today because Halftime Snack wants a KU/SU national championship game match-up. The gruesome twosome of the Morris twins on the Jayhawk squad (not to mention All-American center Cole Aldrich) is perhaps the only match for the Orange in the paint. How did these brothers (both Philadelphia natives) get out of the Big East?

Big East weekend predictions: 
Orange: Syracuse will see red on Sunday afternoon when Rick Pitino brings his struggling Cardinals to the Dome, using its size advantage once again to slay a conference opponent (Syracuse 84, Louisville 70).
Other Big East games:
Pittsburgh 73, West Virginia 71
Connecticut 81, Cincinnati 74
Nova 84, Providence 71
Marquette 76, USF 61
Seton Hall 85, DePaul 65
Georgetown 71, Rutgers 68
Notre Dame 85, St. John’s 72
Last week's record: 7-2
Overall record: 25-13

Stat nerd stat of the week – Points per possession bounced into the central focus of many basketball programs, providing a turnover-prone team like Syracuse justification for its careless style. The same can be said for the other top dog in the conference, Villanova, who relies on pressing and 3-pointers as a way of amplifying the stat-per-possession number.
They said it:In the time it took me to say ‘Tyrone Wheatley’ I already forgot about the other guy.”  SU Director of Athletics Dr. Daryl Gross, on “The Gomez and Dave Show” Tuesday morning after the announcement of the newest SU running backs coach.
"Jimmer is by far the best player in the conference and one of the top players in the country. He keeps his composure during the game and doesn’t get easily rattled." TCU head coach Jim Christian after his team fell to Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars on Feb. 2. 

Just call it the Syracuse Bowl

Over 100 million viewers will watch a football game this evening, and the main storyline is centered around Syracuse great Dwight Freeney and his twisted ankle.

The No.1 sporting event in American athletics should be re-named this season. Rather than the call it fancy-old Super Bowl XLIV, it should be the Syracuse Bowl.

The top NFL story over the last two weeks started with the new Pro Bowl date (all-star games for warrior sports makes little sense) and then quickly changed hands to the torn right ankle of SU alum Dwight Freeney. Freeney, an All-American defensive lineman for the Orange in 2001, is now an All-Pro pass rusher for the Indianapolis Colts and suffered a nasty sprain  (called a ‘basketball sprain’) in the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets. Questions about his availability, and potential impact, have even affected the gambling.

Without Freeney at the point of attack for the speedy Colts defense, Saints quarterback Drew Brees will have the time he needs to match an opponent seeking to become the benchmark for great quarterbacks (as put by The New York Times on Sunday), Peyton Manning, point for point.

Nonetheless, Manning and the Colts win second championship in five years as Reggie Wayne wins MVP after catching three touchdowns. Colts 39, Saints 35.

Do you want more Syracuse Bowl connections?

Read Jared Diamond’s story in The Daily Orange about the SU employee with a special bond with a Saint.

Post-Standard columnist Bud Pollequin dug into the archives for an unlikely Super Bowl connection between former Syracuse high school footballers.

Friday Five - Fourth Edition

This is the fourth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. Adjust your computer monitor accordingly.

February is a month of adjustments. The number of days on the calendar is known to change, Valentine’s Day can be a disaster or heaven depending on your love life, and in 2010 the Winter Olympics interrupts the normal TV programming.  Halftime Snack is on board with Adjustment Month:

The starting five:

1 -             Michigan State is in gut-check mode after getting beat handily, 67-49, at No. 16 Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The fifth-ranked Spartans have lost and mid-way thru the second half in Madison, also lost reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas to a twisted ankle (read the latest from the Detroit Free Press). Four of the next six Big Ten games are on the road and a basketball team without its point guard is like a freighter coming into the port on its own. Without the tugboat, the coach (Captain Izzo) directs more from the bench, and that handling is tiresome.

2 -            The degree of difficulty runs high for Andy Rautins lately. The stats in the last four games tell one story (7 for his last 29, 11 TOs, seven points per game), but there are some chapters you skip. The fifth-year senior is pulling double-duty on the Orange this season, the top shooter on the offensive end and the defensive leader on the other. A double agent, Jason Bourne-style is Rautins. Draws the attention of every opponent, even inducing triangle-and-two coverage (Wes Johnson being the other player denied) from some teams. Hell, Rautins is such a concern that people are taking swings at his manhood and throwing the ball off his face (“I don’t think it was intentional,” said Rautins).

3 -            Bob Huggins just debuted a transfer (6’9” Turkish post Deniz Kilicli) of his own and was that loud clicking sound the West Virginia fans investing their change in tickets to Madison Square Garden for the Big East finals. Let me just throw in my two cents.

4 -             We hear plenty of talk about Syracuse star forward Wes Johnson’s ability to bounce—the ball, off the floor, back from a bad game or just plain elevation. Halftime Snack sees Johnson perform two of the four quite well (the dribbling is shaky, especially going left), and the rest of the Orange Nation is eagerly waiting to see how Johnson comes back from that high-wire tumble against Providence (TheNewshouse.com photographer Andrew Burton snapped the photo of Johnson below and the infamous one circling the Internet).

Wes Johnson

5-             Halftime Snack made a triumphant return to the hardwood, playing in the alumni game at the University of Rochester on Saturday afternoon. Talk about adjustments: the rims seem a foot higher and Snack was bumped from his customary spot in the post, out to beyond the three-point arc. Adjustments, people: Snack scored five points and led the Grey team to a contested victory over the Blue squad. Check out this piece about legendary UR coach Mike Neer (the guy who got the job when Boeheim opted out, and returned to Syracuse) written by Jim Mandalero in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: Syracuse hits the toughest part of its 2009-10 schedule when Connecticut comes to the Dome on Wednesday, but this Sunday sees a trip to Ohio. The Cincinnati Bearcats (14-8, 5-5 Big East) are led by freshman sensation Lance Stephenson and have notable wins over Maryland, Connecticut and Notre Dame (plus overtime losses to Gonzaga and Xavier), but at 71 points per game will be unable to out-score SU (Syracuse 79, Cincinnati 70).

Other Big East games:

Georgetown 69, Villanova 68
West Virginia 85, St. John’s 71
Providence 82, Marquette 79
Louisville 77, Rutgers 66
Seton Hall 74, Pittsburgh 70
Connecticut 80, DePaul 65
Notre Dame 79, USF 73

National scene: Not getting around the biggest game of the weekend (Kansas 82, Texas 80). This is a possible Final Four match-up—the Big 12 is the only conference other than the mighty Big East that could bring two teams to Indianapolis. The Jayhawks are the top team in the country and its time the fans in Philly and in Onondaga County stop worrying about the top spot - there is a time and a place to decide that. Kansas is one of two teams (maybe floundering UConn) that has the size-and-speed combination to matchup with the Orange, but the Jayhawks have a senior point guard that has played in the big games, something SU lacks at this point.

Record last week: 5-4
Overall: 18-11

Stat nerd stat of the week – Please stat nerds, remember that for every action (shot, steal) there is a result (rebound, turnover) that must occur. The box score needs to balance. If the first free throw is missed, the stat gods deem an offensive deadball rebound is credited (but no team actually gets credit for the rebound). A magical floating rebound that might as well get assigned to a referee—he’s usually the one who ends up with the ball after that A.O. air ball.

They said it:You don’t make adjustments to rebound (as a coach), players make adjustments. It’s hard for a coach to make a rebound adjustment. I never learned how to do that,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim taking the sarcasm train out of the station during his post-game press conference following the win over Providence.

“I understand (Rick) Pitino's frustration (following Louisville’s game with West Virginia), but I also think that coaches overly fixate on referee errors as opposed to the dozens of things that happen during the course of a game that decide the outcome, including coaching mistakes.” Seth Davis in his “College Basketball Mailbag” posted on Feb. 3.

I’ve been to Syracuse twice and it’s snowed twice. I think there will be more snow when we leave the Dome tonight.” ESPN commentator Doug Gottlieb during SU’s win over Providence.

I wouldn’t say the same thing in Kansas,” Providence head coach Keno Davis after saying that Syracuse is the top team in the nation after his Friars fell to the Orange.

Five sports events to see in 2010

Pull out your 2010 calendar and insert these five must-see Syracuse sporting events.

The 2010 sports schedule has the Winter Olympics, the World Cup and the imminent return of Tiger Woods. These events are more than a spin up the Thruway, so what can the local fan look forward to in 2010? Halftime Snack has five ideas:

Chiefs flame-throwing farm hand – The major league baseball draft in June centered on right-hander Steve Strasburg from San Diego State. He went 13-1 and led the NCAA with 195 strikeouts in 109 innings for the Aztecs in 2009. Drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals, Strasburg carries the weight of the floundering major league franchise. He signed a record-breaking $15.1 million contract and pitched this summer in the Arizona Fall League (a twisted knee scratched his final start). The Nationals have hidden Strasburg at the start of 2010, limiting his exposure to a press release about getting married. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for a stop in Syracuse with the Chiefs.

Outdoor ice hockey game – Seen as a softie among American snow-bound cities (think Buffalo, Green Bay, Chicago, Boston) with their domed stadium, Syracusans have the chance to show off their icy mettle on Feb. 20 at the first-ever outdoor minor league hockey game. Dubbed the Mirabito Outdoor Classic, the hometown Syracuse Crunch will host the Binghamton Senators at 1 p.m. in the middle of the racetrack oval at the Great New York State Fair. The parent ice hockey league, the NHL, holds the chilly spectacle annually—the 2010 version was held at Fenway Park in Boston.

NCAA men’s basketball Division I East Regional – The NCAA East Regional returns to the Carrier Dome for the sixth time on March 25 and 27. If the last three East Regionals are any indication, the pomp and panache will be memorable this year as well: in 2005, Villanova’s Allen Ray was called for a late travel, allowing North Carolina to move onto the eventual championship (the first of Roy Williams’ career); in 2002, Juan Dixon and the Maryland Terrapins shot down Caron Butler’s Connecticut Huskies en route to a championship; and in 2000, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem of Jon Glass’ Florida Gators ended tournament runs by Shane Battier on the Duke Blue Devils (semifinal) and Doug Gottlieb’s Oklahoma State Cowboys (Note: Due to NCAA policy, the No. 4-ranked Orange are unable to play on their home floor and, they continue at their current clip, will probably get a No. 1 seed and be relegated to the West site, which is Salt Lake City).

Connecticut women play in Dome – The Syracuse women’s basketball team is off to a fast start in 2009-10, posting a 16-5 record with an early-season national ranking. But the big, bad wolf of the Big East—scratch that—of women’s college basketball, the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies, have won 60 consecutive games and are handling the ranked opponents by a whopping 25.7 points per game. Get an up-close look at the most dominant college basketball team since Bill Walton wore light blue in Inglewood, Calif.

Syracuse/Albany men’s lacrosse game – On April 3 at in the Carrier Dome 4 p.m.. Much is being made of the road slate for this year’s title defense, but this in-state rivalry hit new heights when the younger Thompson brothers (kin to new SU midfielder Jeremy Thompson) committed to play for the Great Danes. "SU didn't seem like they were that interested," Miles told The Post-Standard. Read the rest of Trish LaMonte's story.

Friday Five - Third edition

This is the third installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball.

Halftime Snack is out of position and just got called for a blocking foul. This theme is going to run wild, or fall over with a thud.

The starting five:

1 -             Syracuse redshirt sophomore Scoop Jardine took over the Carrier Dome in two games this past week. Many sports teams around the country have players with names, real or not, that lend to a stadium-wide serenade (Kevin Youkilis comes to mind). Yet, how many can pull off the variety of movesSU coach Jim Boeheim instructs sophomore guard Scoop Jardine. Scoop-a-loop displayed: deep three-pointer, spin-and-bounce pass, long alley oop, and the newest: pull-up jumper in transition.  The Orange second team is better than its starting five, how about we get to Scoop (pictured with Jim Boeheim right) a bit sooner. Photo: Andrew Burton/TheNewshouse.com

2 -            Georgetown scorer Austin Freeman is probably the “3,” and not the shooting guard, but his shooting stroke is as pure as several NBA notables. Halftime Snack loves the ease with the ball rotates out of Freeman’s hand; the perfect rotation and high ball flight remind us of Allen Iverson and Dirk Nowitzki.

3 -            Wisconsin junior Keaton Nankivil single-handily kept Wisconsin alive on Keady Court Friday night, canning 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. The 6-foot, 8-inch power forward pick-and-popped Purdue to death, but the Boilermakers should have known it would happen (Nankivil hit all five of his triples against Purdue in 2009).

4 -             Welcome to the Wild, wild Wes! The Sheriff of Syracuse swatted away some pesky dogs (Hoyas, to be exact) on Monday night. Four blocks in total for Wes Johnson on the night, including two weak-side rejections where the sky-walker could have probably caught the ball in mid-flight.

5-             TV people need to be the center of attention. What are you 5-years old, Brent Musberger? For the first 12 minutes of the second half, ESPN, Steve Lavin and you railed against the officiating. First you admonished the referees for changing the tone of the game, and then you predicted Purdue coach Matt Painter is about to get a technical. “You can go to the bank on that one, folks.” Finally, ESPN went with picture-in-picture to try and catch the moment when Painter was to be assessed this violation. (He never got one) Purdue kept its head, winning 60-57. How about ESPN joining NCAA partner in touting sportsmanship, rather than fuele the fans need to ride the officials.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: Syracuse 74, DePaul 51—The Blue Demons are battling offensive ghouls, scoring 70-plus points just three times in 2009-10. The Orange case for a move up in the rankings gets rather loud after Monday’s new poll and the big heads in the Carrier Dome finally burst at home against Providence. Friars 83, Orange 81

Other Big East games:

West Virginia 73, Louisville 71
Connecticut 81, Marquette 77
Georgetown 75, Duke 72
Notre Dame 81, Rutgers 73
Cincinnati 77, Providence 71
Pittsburgh 75, USF 54

National Scene: Harvard at Cornell on Saturday. Another color battle in N.Y. sees the road tripping Crimson (10 of the last 15 played outside of Cambridge) bring a Sports Illustrated feature (penned by Harvard alum Pablo S. Torres) to Ithaca. Take the home team – all-world Harvard guard Jeremy Lin’s talents are undeniable, but the Big Red shooters take comfort in playing at home (42.4% from 3-pt land). Cornell 66, Harvard 61

Record last week: 7-4
Overall: 13-7

Stat nerd stat of the week – Attendance figures are the good, the bad and the ugly of the box score. The good: a high number can lead to an exciting scramble through the record books to boost the in-game announcement (see the Carrier Dome’s lively announcement about “largest on-campus attendance, again” thinger); the bad: if you inflate the big number one day (Saturday versus Marquette), and then before a seemingly larger crowd (Monday versus Georgetown with a two-level student section), the head-scratching beings; the ugly: a sparse crowd can lead to SID counting tricks. My two favorites: 1) count the players, referees, any human that could feasibly see that a sport event is occurring, and 2) given to me by Steve Peed, associate athletic director at Division III Franklin & Marshall: “No attendance figure shall end in a “5” or a “0.”

They said it:What’s up, All-Star, I been watching you,” President Barack Obama said to Kentucky frosh John Wall, effectively jinxing the Wildcats who suffered its first loss of the season at South Carolina.  

I have my special feelings when it’s over. Anything else is premature. Premature anything isn’t very good,” Orange head coach Jim Boeheim after being asked if he had a special feeling about this year’s basketball team.

Come on, Chief. Just put the ball in the basket. In the basket! Come on, Chief, put it in the basket!” Jack Nicholson’s character, R.P. McMurphy, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, imploring the seemingly deaf and mute, yet massive, Chief Bromden to become a low-post threat.

Follow Kyle and the rest of the "Versus" writers on Twitter.

Friday Five - Second edition

This is the second edition of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball.

The local basketball team found stability amongst the instable, the smart kids are winning and Halftime Snack is back with more predictions.

The starting five:

1 -             The Syracuse point guard story wrote its most riveting chapter to date at West Virginia Saturday afternoon. The working title is: Brandon Youth, Selling the Sizzle.  Forceful freshman Brandon Triche scored 11 second-half points as the Orange withstood a 3-point barrage in a 72-71 win over the ninth-ranked Mountaineers. West Virginia stole the momentum at the start of the second half, but Triche stuck his nose in the middle of a 9-0 Orange run with five points. Then with 42 seconds remaining and ‘Cuse up eight points, he confidently sank two free throws with the taunts of West Virginia fans raining down.

2 -            Excitement is brewing around the prestigious Ivy League as two squads, Cornell (15-3) and Harvard (12-3), are off to strong starts after the non-conference slate. The Big Red are a hot Cinderella pick, having won at Alabama, scared Kansas and then beat a Big East team (St. John’s) for the first time in 40 years. Note: The Ivy Leagues has never received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This could be the year—both teams are ranked in the top-60 of the latest RPI rankings.

3 -            Playing the swing position in the Big East is not just about scoring; you are asked every night to defend someone with just as much talent. Pitt freshman sensation Ashton Gibbs learned the hard way in a 74-66 loss to Georgetown on Wednesday: he was held to just eight points (he was averaging 17.5 entering the night), and got torched on defense by Hoya guard Chris Wright  who tallied a game-high 27 points.

4 -             Let’s just call this the “Wes“ side of town. The star tree in Syracuse’s orange grove, Wes Johnson was attacked on two sides in West Virginia, taking the icy punch of influenza on one side before getting shook down by the physical Mountaineer defenders. Wes fought off both attacks, scoring seven points in the final 1:25, and then two nights later, scored a team-high 22 points in 40 minutes at Notre Dame.  Any more questions about toughness on the Wes Side?

5-             Are there any true centers in the Big East? The answer is yes: G’twon sophomore Greg Monroe may initiate the Hoya offense from the top of the paint, but he does so with the traditional “back-to-the-basket” approach of his fellow Hoya pivots (Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, Othella Harrington, Dikembe Mutombo). After bringing the opposing big man out from under the basket, Monroe deftly distributes the ball with hand-offs, backdoor bounce passes, or a crisp chestpass to a shooter on the opposite side.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: Syracuse 88, Marquette 73 – A full week off and its student section replenished, the Orange treat the Dome crowd to a dunk exhibition. Syracuse makes its case for a No. 1 ranking by squelching the Georgetown talk on Big Monday, 73-69. Physical play by the Left-Hook Brothers (SU’s Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson) powers Orange to victory.

Other Big East games:

Georgetown 74, Rutgers 59
Notre Dame 84, DePaul 64
Ohio State 75, West Virginia 72
Villanova 79, St. John's 61
UConn 79, Texas 77
Providence 72, USF 58
Louisville 69, Cincinnati 64
Pittsburgh 72, Seton Hall 66

National Scene: Duke 84, Clemson 74. Another ACC game? Yea, yea, we know. And picking the Dukies to win, to boot. Halftime Snack is trying to maintain its promise not to mention certain Newhouse grad students, but why wasn’t Jon Scheyer (18.9 points per game / 6.1 assists per game) the Duke point guard from the jump?  

Record last week: 6-3
Overall: 6-3

Stat Nerd Stat of the Week – The NCAA is in its second year with an extended 3-point line for the men (the arc was moved back a foot to 20’9”), but not much has changed in the Big East. The 16 teams averaged 6.67 made triples per game in 2007-08, and with this season halfway completed, that ratio has changed little (the teams are sinking an average of 6.55 treys).

They Said It: “There is another BOO. Basket Of Opportunity!” ESPN color analyst and Hall of Famer Bob Knight at the Texas/Kansas State game.

 ''We win games with defense, but we lost this game with defense,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon told the Associated Press following Wednesday's loss to Georgetown.

Fresh faces emerge in old-style Big East game

A pair of freshman guards, Syracuse’s Brandon Triche and West Virginia’s Dalton Pepper, sparked their respective programs in the first game between two top-10 teams in Morgantown, West Virginia since 1960.

Quantity nearly beat quality Saturday afternoon. Fifth-ranked Syracuse withstood a barrage of late three-pointers by No. 9 West Virginia, making just enough free throws to defeat the Mountaineers, 72-71, in Big East action.

West Virginia guard Darryl Bryant sank three free throws and an NBA three-pointer in the span of four seconds while the Orange missed three of four attempts at the charity stripe. The final attempt, a Kris Joseph clank with 2.5 seconds left, fell into the hands of All-Big East guard Da’Sean Butler who drew nothing but air on a three-quarter-court heave.

''At the end, West Virginia just kept making plays and pushing further and further, so we are very fortunate that we didn't turn it over, and I think that's what made the difference,'' Orange coach Jim Boeheim told the Associated Press. ''We were tougher today. We had toughness when we needed it.

Led by Triche (16 points, five assists) and Joseph (13 points, 5-of-8 from the charity stripe), the Orange (16-1, 4-1 Big East) continued to shot the ball well (57.8 percent from the floor) and held a sizeable rebound advantage (35-24).

But this is the Big East Conference. Football on the hardwood floor. No lead is safe. Even this author thought the Orange would be upset.

The bullish Triche (listed at 6-4, 200 lbs.) opened the game with a three-pointer, but the in-your-face style West Virginia defense made passing for Syracuse difficult. By fronting the larger Orange post players and denying on the wings, the Mountaineers disrupted the Syracuse continuity. The Orange committed seven turnovers in the opening 10 minutes, yet two buckets by bruising forward Rick Jackson, including a smooth lefty hook from the baseline, gave the Orange a 19-15 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.

West Virginia was suffering just as much on its offensive end, allowing the Cuse zone to push its offense farther and farther from the basket. The Mountaineers continued to fire from long distance, and the long misses led to easy Syracuse fast breaks. Orange senior guard Andy Rautins led a 3-on-2 break with 5:45 left, dropping a pass of to Wes Johnson, who swooped in for the finger roll to put Syracuse ahead, 22-15.

The Mountaineer (13-3, 4-2) started to find their mark late in the first half, as Butler sank consecutive jumpers (one was a triple) and drew a charge on Jackson.  Butler then drew another charge, this time on Orange guard Scoop Jardine.

Bryant found the bottom of the net with five seconds left in the half, drilling a three-pointer to bring the fans to their feet, and West Virginia was within one, 26-25.

The momentum stayed with West Virginia as they emerged from the locker room. After Orange head coach Jim Boeheim went to a smaller lineup Brandon Triche(inserting Joseph for hulking post Arinze Onuaku), WVU counterpart Bob Huggins inserted freshman shooting guard Dalton Pepper.

The Mountaineers brought its physicality to the offense, making contact with the Orange players standing around in the zone. WVU overloaded one side of the zone with four players and then attacked the weak-side Orange forwards. The result: a 13-6 Mountaineers scoring run fueled by a pair of three-pointers from Pepper.

In 12 minutes of second-half action, Pepper tallied 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and filled WVU with limitless confidence that would reveal itself later in the game.

Boeheim, tired of seeing his Orange getting pushed around, pushed back against the officials, coming within a hair of getting a technical. After signaling for time, Boeheim mimicked how his star, Wesley Johnson, got hit on the arm attempting a jump shot. Johnson, bugged by the flu and Butler’s lock-down defense, was not his normal self. He, and Boeheim, needed someone to step up.

Up stepped Triche (pictured), who had been quiet since the opening minutes. The freshman ignited 9-0 Orange run following the time out, converting a steal and the layup before pulling up off the dribble to can a three-pointer with 11:05 left as the Orange led 46-42.

After a brief rest, Boeheim put Triche back on the floor with 6:43 left and Cuse clinging to a one-point lead, 48-47. The Orange lead jumped to eight points, 59-51 as Triche found Onuaku for a thunderous dunk, and then converted a lay-up in traffic. Triche grabbed an offensive rebound at the 2:42 mark and made the put-back while getting fouled.

The Orange (17-1, 4-1) pushed its lead to 65-55 on a Johnson free throw before West Virginia started drilling deep three-pointers.

Bryant led West Virginia with 18 points by shooting 4-of-7 from three-point land while Pepper contributed a career-high 15 and Butler added 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Johnson and Joseph tallied 13 points apiece while Jackson bulled his way to eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

The last time two top-10 teams met in West Virginia, Hall of Famer Jerry West, as  a senior captain, led the Mountaineers to a victory over Villanova.

Maybe the next time people look back at a game like this, historians will talk about the day Brandon Triche broke out.

Follow us on Twitter for in-game updates, news and analysis.

Photo by Jamie De Pould/TheNewshouse.com

Friday Five - First edition

Halftime Snack is transitioning from the weekly Football Friday posts, covering Syracuse and college football nationwide, to the new “Friday Five” with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball.

To get ready for the basketball weekend, readers can find Halftime Snack’s five “starters,” picked just like any college coach in the country: “1” is the point guard, “2” the shooting guard, “3” the guard/forward hybrid, “4” is usually a forward, traditionally with power but in the modern game, with more dribble.  The “5” is the big man, the center, the protector of the paint, King of the Nylon, be big, be a brute, keep ‘em out!

Just like Football Friday, Halftime Snack will include quotes from around college basketball, predictions for the Orange games, and predictions for Big East games, as well as a “Stat Nerd” note, appeasing the statistician in all of us.

The inaugural “five”:

1 - The point guard position is the weakness in an otherwise daunting Orange offensive attack. This is not an attack on either Brandon Triche or Scoop Jardine; both have qualities that make it hard to defend the Orange. But by using the two-headed approach, SU head coach Jim Boeheim is promoting indecision and doubt (is one mistake going to get the player on the floor pulled?).  The change-of-pace works, but Boeheim has it backwards. Jardine is one of the best dribblers in the Big East, has better vision, and honed his finishing skills in the tough Philadelphia Catholic League. The up-and-down play of the freshman Triche (one good play for every two turnovers) is bound to put the Orange in bind one game.

2 - Is there a better player in the last five minutes than Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds? Made famous by his dash in Boston last March that sent the Wildcats to the East regional championship and Final Four berth, Reynolds was at it again at Lousiville on Monday. The senior single-handily turned around a 17-point deficit, scoring 30 second-half points to lead ‘Nova to a 92-84 Big East win. Did you ever notice how Reynolds balances on his tiptoes like a ballet dancer? Makes it easy to up-fake defenders and get to the free throw line.

3 - A combo position, how about a combo program? The Orange men and women’s basketball teams are a combined 31-2 in 2009-2010, with each team having a Big East loss in the Dome. Guess the new Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center was a good investment!

4 - The hottest name in college basketball wears this number for the Orange and when Wesley Johnson plays the power forward position, SU is at its best. Boeheim is still stubborn in starting the slower, bigger lineup with both Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson on the floor at the same time. Once one of the big boys heads to the bench and Kris Joseph comes in, the Orange speed up the game on defense, which leads to fast-breaks, dunks and easy baskets on offense. Plus, the opposite power forward has little chance of containing Johnson, a future “3” in the NBA.

5 - The center of everyone’s attention in college basketball should be Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado, who posted a triple-double (17 points, 12 rebounds, 10 blocks) in the Bulldogs’ 82-80 win over Arkansas last night. Varnado now has 484 career blocks, surpassing Tim Duncan of Wake Forest for third all-time in NCAA history. He is now 52 rejections shy of the record (535 held by former Louisiana-Monroe player Wojciech Mydra). Read the story Andy Katz from ESPN.com did on Varnado staying for his senior year.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: West Virginia 81, Syracuse 71 – Any team that shoots the three-pointer from all five positions is going to give the Orange trouble. The Mountaineers sputtered in two road games in Indiana (77-62 loss at Purdue, 70-68 defeat at Notre Dame), but will enjoy the yellow sea of fans in Morgantown. The Orange will post a 2-1 record on three-game road trip by out-scoring Notre Dame on Monday (88-81), despite the shooting performance by Luke Harangody.

Other Big East games:

Louisville 71, Pitt 69
Cincinnati 77, Notre Dame 74
USF 73, Rutgers 65
Villanova 74, Georgetown 69 (courtside seats at the Wachovia Center are going for $450, face-value)
St. John’s 72, DePaul 59
Marquette 75, Providence 68

National scene: North Carolina 85, Georgia Tech 81 – A battle of who’s taller in the ACC. Carolina needs a win after getting waxed by 19 points at Clemson on Wednesday.

Record last week: 0-0
Cumulative record: 0-0

Stat Nerd

Take a look at the line Jarvis Varnado posted against Arkansas on Jan. 14: 17 points, 12 rebounds, 10 blocks and 1 foul. Arkansas did all it could to get Varnado in foul trouble, continually driving at the Mississippi State center. A little Bill Russell, but more like Alonzo Mourning, we say.

They Said It:

“Both teams can open a bakery, with all these turnovers.” Steve Lavin, ESPN commentator and former UCLA coach at the Indiana/Michigan game Thursday night.

Orange, Rautins drive through the Knights

Syracuse guard Andy Rautins scored a season-high 23 points with nine assists in the 81-65 win at Rutgers Wednesday night. Rautins is the Honda Odyssey in fifth-ranked Orange’s crowded stable of victory vehicles.

Orange head coach Jim Boeheim has a basketball vehicle for every game he drives through. The veteran Big East coach knows every contest has a different course layout, an alternate track to navigate.

Some nights the road lays straight and wide, like an expressway. Boeheim moves the score with a large mass, either his A & O dump truck or his big Rig Jackson.

In Piscataway, New Jersey, site of Rutgers University, residents drive through life, one stoplight at a time.  




Start fast.

To pilot a national title contender, as Boeheim is doing this season, he needs to know when to drive the right car. Most nights it’s the Wexus J-Class (swing Wesley Johnson has a double-double tachometer) or the K-Jo-gee-nee (an Italian wow machine).

Tonight, Boeheim maximized his offensive energy with the minimalistic Rautins. A versatile vehicle, Rautins can pick up floundering passengers, and offenses, with an effortless triple (he hit four Wednesday and leads the team with 41) before stopping suddenly to deliver the kids to school: After a Cuse trap led to a turnover, the team captain turned up court with the outlet pass, braked hard to avoid committing an offensive foul on the set Knight defender, and snapped off a one-handed bounce pass to backcourt mate Brandon Triche that traveled over 60 feet and resulted in an easy layup and a 39-23 Cuse lead at intermission.

A low-maintenance stroke throttles the SU engine as it strains. Rutgers (9-7, 0-4 Big East) sniffed life midway through the second half with fearless shooting guard Mike Rosario launching from I-287 (he ended the night with 17 points on six-of-19 shooting).

“There’s no lead that’s really that safe in college basketball,” Boeheim in the post-game press conference video posted on SUathletics.com.

Rautins settled the pristine Orange attack (SU ranks with the nation’s best in field goal percentage and points per game), as the Orange calmly sank 79 percent of their free throws to seal the victory.

“(Andy) made a lot of plays,” said Boeheim. “He had a big game: steals, assists. He was much more aggressive today.”

Now, Rautins (pictured) isn’t the only high-efficiency motor in Boeheim’s garage: the sporty Mookiecycle revs up nice and loud, and with the K-Jogini nursing a flat wheel, the redshirt frosh showed the two-wheel transportation is just as good. Orange guard Mookie Jones was shooting sparks everywhere, scoring 11 points with four rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes.

“I thought Mookie came in and gave us a tremendous lift,” Boeheim said.

Jones wants to play badly, a feeling expressed earlier this year in a story by Mike Waters at The Post Standard, and his play (46.3 percent from beyond the arc this season) is proof enough.

It’s hard for Boeheim to pick the wrong vehicle this winter—the Orange (16-1, 3-1) rank near the top in the country in field goal percentage (53.2 at the end of the night) and points per game (85.2).

Put some snow tires on that mini-van.


Photo by Jamie De Pould/TheNewshouse.com