Wednesday, February 02, 2011

SU-UConn: Boeheim Presses the "Reset" Button

Nothing washes away 4-straight losses like beating UConn at Storrs. Seriously, I feel so much better now. Sure, it was a hideous game. But consider the following and smile:
  • UConn was deservedly ranked 7th, but the Huskies were outplayed throughout the second half. SU's biggest win of the season re-establishes their top-15 credibility.
  • Jim Calhoun and UConn haven't beaten SU since February 2009. In that short period of time, the two teams have played a total of 6 overtimes against each other! It's true! Look it up! (Giggling gleefully to myself...)
  • Boeheim now has 8 more career wins than Calhoun.
  • After all that, SU is now 1/2 game ahead of UConn in the Big East standings, and two wins better overall.
  • Except for the small contingent of SU fans, everyone at the game had to make the long drive back to their suburban mansions sad and disappointed. I can see them now, slumped back on their leather couches, miserably munching on grapes and brie, and shouting at their butlers to go fetch a second bottle of wine from the cellar. Typical UConn fans!
So I'm very happy. But how did this happen? How did we stop the slide? How did we get our first lead since we hit the first basket of the Villanova game, and how did we not fall behind for the entire second half?

It starts with Boeheim, the man who has never had a 5-game losing streak. He never gets too high when things are going good, and he never gets too down when the poop is literally hitting the fan. That matters when you're dealing with a bunch of knucklehead 18-22-year-olds, and running the gauntlet that is the Big East schedule.

As you know, the last four games were ugly. How ugly? Well, I'll answer that with a one-question quiz. Which of the following thoughts did I NOT have today before the game started?
A) There is absolutely NO WAY we are going to win this game.
B) This team's collapse and demeanor is starting to feel like the '01-'02 Preston Shumpert-DeShaun Williams season. (Side note: I hope I never again compare ANY SU season to the team that inspired the "DeShaun Williams impregnated Julie Boeheim" joke, that was hilarious to me and my college friends because of the small-but-real chance it could've happened.)
C) I don't know if I want to go to any more Orange home games this season.
D) Maybe Jim Boeheim's lost his touch.

Obviously, the answer is D. I'm an unapologetic That brings us back to what he did with this team. For four games, other than the 2nd half against Marquette, the Orange were barely competitive. So Boeheim calmly rose to his feet, walked to his Nintendo, and pressed the reset button.

Suddenly, the Orange were back at the beginning of the season, only wiser from the experience. Syracuse started the game slow (as they did early in the season). KJ, irreplaceable down the stretch just as he should be, got off to a slow start, which left the rest of the team to feel out their roles on offense. Into that uncertainty came the freshmen, particularly C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters (having checked out of Boeheim's doghouse). Both took advantage of opportunities when they came. For the most part, neither tried to do too much. Fair ended with 6 points and 4 rebounds. Dion, I thought, played his best Big East game with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Speaking of steals, the defense looked much better. Syracuse's 12 steals were the most since they snagged a dozen against Morgan State on December 20. Half of those steals were made by Baye Keita. I'll say that again. Half of those steals were made by Baye Keita. He benefited from more activity on the perimeter, harassing the Husky guards. But the Big Lanky (I like that! I just made that up!) deserves a lot of credit - he also had 4 points, 11 boards, and 2 blocks. How can you give New Melo minutes with Keita playing this well? Coincidentally, Baye Moussa Keita, literally translated, means, "New Melo's Bane."

UConn's 58 points was their lowest total of the season. Future superstar Jeremy Lamb had 22, but no other Husky scored in double figures. That includes, of course, Kemba Walker, who didn't score a point over the final 12:55.

Back on the offensive end, the Orange didn't score a lot of points (like earlier in the season), but against the very good UConn man-to-man defense the Orange scoring was balanced, from the Freshmen to the vets.

Ricky was still Ricky. 13 points, 13 boards, death and taxes.

KJ was, as I said above, crucial down the stretch. If a pharmaceutical company figured out a way to put "KJ attacking the hoop and getting fouled" into a pill form, I would be headed to rehab for drug abuse. I love it when he gets to the line. Give me more, KJ! Give me MORE!

Triche was very good. He got the Orange off to a strong start at the beginning of the second, hitting the first Syracuse three of the game, and following that up with a looooonnnng two that I didn't like him shooting...until it went in.

Scoop? Well, Scoop was still Scoop. Massive cojones. At 5:46 to go in the game, with SU's lead a precarious three and the crowd as loud as it had been to that point (and by the way, that is NOT saying much; I know the game was ugly, but seriously, UConn, you have to bring more than that), Scoop dribbled across half-court, spotted a seam, and decided to take it himself. He probably would have missed, but the shot was goal-tended. Two minutes later, more cojones. He bricked a long three early in the shot clock. Down the stretch, more cojones. He was 3 for 4 from the foul line. And he wanted to be there.

Boeheim got the team back to basics. The defense was better. The offense was good enough. The vets led the way, but the freshmen contributed nicely. It's only one win, but the ship has been righted.

South Florida is the next destination, and they WILL NOT beat the Orange. Then it's Georgetown in the dome, followed by a trip to Louisville. The Orange could go 0-2 against that ranked pair, but I think one win is more likely. After that, the schedule isn't easy. But Syracuse is now 19-4, and 6-4 in the Big East. 4-4 over the final 8 is very reasonable, and there is no WAY the NCAAs would snub a 23-8 (10-8) Big East team (not including the Big East tournament) with the expanded 68 team field.

Take a deep breath, Syracuse fans. We're back on track.

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