Syracuse basketball takes transit uptown

Halftime Snack saw simple basketball beat difficult opponents for the Orange men's basketball team this weekend at the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. SU beat ranked opponents from both sides of the country, topping California and North Carolina.

Remember back in gym class, during basketball, when the teacher would assign two people to pick sides? The tallest kids in the class were always picked first. The thought: closer to the basket, the more easily that person would put the ball in.

Halftime Snack read Jonathan Abrams’s article in this morning’s New York Times about the pick-and-roll, and the many NBA players who use the play to get open shots.

Those same thoughts go through the head coaches of the big-time college basketball: what is the easiest shot my team can get? This nightly puzzle was on display at Madison Square Garden Friday night when defending national champion North Carolina played Syracuse in the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

Carolina brought one of the tallest frontcourts in the country, college or NBA, to the Garden (an average of 6-feet-10 ½ inches per player—OK, we ignored 6-foor-4 senior forward James Gallagher, but he has only logged three minutes this season), and all head coach Roy Williams wanted was to get the ball as close to the rim as possible. Williams gets his Tar Heels to run, run, run, whether it’s after made baskets or, even better, missed ones.

The point guard, in 2008-09 it was the flawless All-American Ty Lawson, pushes the ball towards the rim while the big boys find a defender to make contact with. If the point guard is stopped by the defense from attempting a lay-up, he just drops it to off to a waiting big man, ready to shoot from point-blank range.

The Orange has adhered to parts of the UNC philosophy early this season, taking the steals and rebounds it collects on the defensive end and racing the ball up the floor. By getting a jump on the transition defense, Syracuse always has an extra player advantage with 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 situations.

On Friday night it was Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse high-flyers who solved the puzzle. UNC kept committing careless turnovers (you can’t shoot the ball if you don’t have it) and the Cuse used its formula to post a 22-1 run at the start of the second half.  The flurry of points was capped by a Scoop Jardine teardrop shot in the lane over the UNC trees; cries of "Scoooooooooooop” from the Orange-oriented crowd rang through the Garden rafters. Syracuse took the Coaches vs. Cancer championship, winning 87-71.

Two games against top-10 teams and you put up 90.5 points per game? The SU transit offense is Coach Boeheim's ticket uptown; he sure picked the right kids for his side.

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