Sunday, February 27, 2011

Syracuse's 2010-11 Season So Far: The Joys of Phase 6!

The underpants gnomes in South Park had 3 phases.

The moon has 6 phases.

The card game Phase 10 has...well, I can't remember how many phases.

And so far the Syracuse basketball season is at 6 phases. Here they are...

Phase 1: Sprinting the First Mile - Games 1 (Northern Iowa) - 9 (Michigan State)

Best Win(s): Michigan St (72-58) will probably make the tournament and Izzo could once again perform some March magic, but the Spartans haven't been the team we thought they were. Michigan (53-50) hasn't been great either, NC State (65-59) has been mediocre, and Georgia Tech (80-76) has been downright horrendous.

Worst Loss: none, although the 3-point win over the 2nd-to-worst Colonial team, William & Mary, was pretty stinky.

Player Who Made a Leap: Honestly? It was probably Scoop Jardine. Ricky's play wasn't a surprise but while everyone waited for KJ to dominate Scoop grabbed the emotional reins of this team.

Momentum: Soaring. Syracuse started the season ranked 13th and rode the Michigan St. win to a 5th place ranking. The 2-3 zone seemed to have picked up where last year's team left off.

Boeheim's Rotation: Deep. As early as the end of Phase 1, Keita had established himself as the best Freshman center, as evidenced by his 27 minutes against Michigan St to New Melo's 13. Waiters was getting more minutes than CJ. And Southerland and Mookie were getting a few runs in all but the toughest match-ups.

The Scoop Situation: His stats were up and down, but by the end of this stretch it was clear he was the general of the team. Would you believe Scoop had zero points in the opener against Northern Iowa and again against Cornell? It's true! On the other hand, he had back-to-back 23 and 19 against NC St. and Michigan St. He racked up the assists and steals against the weaker opponents.

Phase 2: Toying with Mice - Games 10 (Colgate) -13 (Drexel)

Best Win(s): Both Iona (83-77) and Drexel (93-65) are upper division teams in decent mid-major tournaments who could conceivably make a run to win their conference tournaments and appear in the NCAAs. Drexel was two games removed from a win @Louisville when the Orange hosted them.

Worst Loss: none

Player Who Made a Leap: Looking back this might have been the turning point in Brandon Triche's career at SU. Triche scored in double-digits only once in Phase 1, but did it three times in these four games. Since then he's missed double-digits only four times!

Momentum: Flying high. Syracuse wasn't pouring on the points in Phase 1, suggesting flaws on the offensive end a top-5 team probably shouldn't have. Against four easy opponents, SU scored 100, 83, 97, and 93 points.

Boeheim's Rotation: Very deep. Southerland was first off the bench, playing more than 20 minutes in 3 of these games.

The Scoop Situation: Solid. 19 Ast to 6 TO. His minutes-per-game dipped here, though, because the Orange were winning so easily.

Phase 3: Coasting into the Conference Schedule - Games 14 (Providence) - 18 (Cincinnati)

Best Win(s): In retrospect the 76-59 shellacking @St. John's looks great, but the Red Storm were a different team in January than they are now. The almost equally easy 70-58 home win over then-15th ranked Notre Dame was probably the best win.

Worst Loss: none

Player Who Made the Leap: KJ. Training with the Big Ball suddenly gave him range, making him a terrifying match-up.

Momentum: Peaking. 18-0 earned SU a #3 ranking, but everyone knew there were losses on the horizon - we just weren't sure how many...

Boeheim's Rotation: Stabilizing. Starting center New Melo got double-digit minutes in only two of these games. CJ was still nursing his injured ankle heading into this stretch; he didn't score more than 4 points in any of these games. Southerland's minutes started to dip. Dion's were up and down.

The Scoop Situation: Good, but signs of trouble. Scoop dropped to 2nd in ppg as KJ heated up from outside and claimed his rightful spot as top scorer on the team. Ricky, on the other hand, wasn't getting the ball enough. Throughout all the wins, Scoop's mistakes remained.

Phase 4: Reality Check - Games 19 (Villanova) - 22 (Marquette)
Best Win(s): none

Worst Loss: The game that shall never be mentioned.

Player Who Made the Leap: I'll give this to Ricky by default. With three double-doubles, he deserves slim to no blame for this ugly stretch.

Momentum: In flames (the bad kind). KJ was hurt. Rumors about point-shaving swirled. And Dion sat out the Marquette game for cursing at Boeheim during the game that shall not be named.

Boeheim's Rotation: Squeezed/Crisis Mode. When the going gets tough, Boeheim shortens the bench. Against Villanova 9 players played 8+ minutes. By the Marquette game that had shrank to 7, with Ricky, KJ, and Scoop sitting a combined 4 minutes!

The Scoop Situation: Debacle. He shot 33% from the field. Other than the Marquette game when he started to turn the corner with 13 assists, Jardine had 9 ast to 7 TO. Plus he was LITERALLY a train wreck in the Villanova game! Denzel Washington and Chris Pine couldn't even set him right!

Phase 5: Boeheim Presses the Reset Button - Games 23 (UConn) - 26 (Louisville)

Best Win(s): The 66-58 win @ #7 UConn prevented Boeheim's first ever 5-game losing streak and brought SU fans back from the ledge.

Worst Loss: Dropping the home game against Georgetown 64-56 was much more troubling than the Louisville loss. The Cardinals game, if you recall, saw crazy momentum swings. By the end of the game I was certain SU was the more talented team but didn't have quite enough time to dig themselves out of the halftime hole.

Player Who Made the Leap: CJ. Great point by my buddy Chris - Syracuse had two great glue guys on the 2003 team (Josh Pace and Kueth Duany) but (The Belgian not withstanding) recent teams have lacked those solid complementary players who will fill up the box score without Boeheim running plays for them. Right now and maybe in the long run CJ is one of those guys. He's like a lankier, more front court-oriented version of Pace. They even wear the same number!

Momentum: Stabilizing.

Boeheim's Rotation: After getting injured, New Melo finally dropped out of the starting lineup to make way for Keita. CJ became the first guy off the bench. Dion jumped out of the doghouse. Southerland and Mookie disappeared. As I wrote at the time, it felt like Boeheim was re-establishing the foundation of the season. The defense showed signs of improving, while KJ's health improved and Triche kept playing well.

The Scoop Situation: The Scapegoat. Until the Louisville game, Scoop remained ice cold on offense. Still, despite Syracuse fans calling for Triche to take over at PG, Scoop started managing the offense a little better, limiting turnovers and passing the ball well. His 20pts, 4-8 3pts against Louisville was also promising.

Phase 6: The Return of Optimism - Games 27 - present
Best Win(s): Syracuse caught Georgetown without Chris Wright and Villanova playing poorly. Of the two, the Villanova game was a tougher, gutsier win.

Worst Loss: none. Sure Rutgers took the Orange into overtime, but except for a brief moment after Ricky missed that late free throw, I never thought Syracuse was going to lose.

Player Who Made the Leap: Scoop! Especially if you focus on the last two games. When he is making shots AND dishing 6+ assists Syracuse can play with any team in the country.

Momentum: Moving into the passing lane. With Louisville playing Pittsburgh today, and with only a home game against DePaul left for the Orange, Syracuse is in great position for a top-4 finish in the Big East, earning the coveted double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

Boeheim's Rotation: Expanding. In the first half against Rutgers, Boeheim confidently moved players in and out as though he were facing a non-conference opponent. Against Georgetown, even New Melo saw important minutes in the second half. CJ was quieter, but Southerland re-emerged. And Dion seems to hit one big three every game.

The Scoop Situation: The stuff that makes you throw your remote control across the room? That's not going away. Ultimately, Scoop will make a couple terrible decisions that lead to SU's downfall in the NCAAs. We all know it's coming. Until then, though, this is a Scoop that Syracuse can go to war with. Like it or not, SU's ceiling is the same as Scoop Jardine's. The good news is, if he stays this hot anything is possible. Hopefully Phase 6 lasts a looooonnnnng time.



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