I have to admit, I didn't actually start watching Sunday's 89-86 loss until the second half but that's all I needed to know to learn two things that doomed the Orange.
I point to one specific set of events that took place late in the 2nd half. Villanova has the ball, a pass is knocked awry and players scramble for it. The Villnova player dives for the ball as Devo dives onto him. He calls timeout and gets it just in the nick of time. The Villanova bench erupts. Players are jumping around. Coaches run out and grab their guy. The player is fired up. They ooze positivity.
A minute or two later, almost the same series of events happens on the Syracuse side. A Syracuse player dives for the ball and calls timeout. The Syracuse bench...slowly rises to it's feet. The players on the court walk gingerly over to the bench. The Orange are only down a few points but they might as well be down 20. 3,000 miles away I can literally feel their negativity.
What is it? Does this come back to what we heard in that Sports Illustrated article? Is Jimmy B emotionally running these guys into the ground? Where the excitement on the bench? Why aren't our bench guys going nuts for our starters? And why don't our starters have passion when they're out on the floor?
Even when the Orange were within 2 points, I knew they'd lose. You didn't need to know the score, all you had to do was watch the players on each side and you knew exactly who believed they would win and who believed they would lose.
2. Everybody's A Hero
Question for you...when the team is down and nothing's going right, which Orangeman needs to put the team on his shoulders and carry it? Jonny Flynn, our point guard and the best athlete on the floor? What about Devo, the elder statesman of the group and who plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Dome itself? Or there's Downtown Andy Rautins, our three-point specialist and usual leading scorer.
It's tough to say, right ? Well imagine how tough it is for those players to figure it out. Cause clearly they haven't. At multiple moments in the 2nd half, all three of those players too kit upon themselves to will the Orange back into the game and three of them did it in awkward, inopportune ways. They would have been better served finding the cohesive strategy but instead it became three one-man-shows. Flynn and Devo took turns showing us how NOT to handle 2-on-1s and other instances where passing was a better option than bad shots. And Devo also joined Rautins in shooting some of the worst three-pointers I've ever seen. Forced, uneven, bad three-pointers.
It's understandable that the Orange want the ball in the hands of these three players when it counts. But for the love of God, just because there isn't a lot of time left on the clock that doesn't mean every shot has to be a desperation, behind-the-back-while falling-over shot. If there's more than five seconds left on the clock, you're allowed to plant your feet. I checked. It's totally cool.
The last three minutes of the game, the Orange looked desperate. That's what it looked like to me, watching a team that clearly wasn't enjoying themselves as they threw up poorly-thought-out shot after poorly-thought-out shot. In a sense, I can't blame them. They've proven themselves to be good but not great team in the Big East. There is a level of teams in the conference they can beat and there is a level of teams they can't. That's what they've been thinking and that's what they've been unable to prove otherwise. And yesterday they played like a team that knows it.
Lucky for them, the "gauntlet" is over. Now the Orange face a string of Big East teams they can beat. And probably need to in order to regain some footing. It's funny because on paper things aren't so bad. At 19-8 (7-7) the Orange still have a realistic shot at winning ten Big East games and an outside shot at winning eleven. It begins Tuesday at 13-14 St. John's.
Some other thoughts on the game:
- The Axeman is bummed the Orange couldn't notch their win marquee Big East win of the season.
- Donna Ditota notes that the ball just didn't fall when it mattered most for Andy Rautins.
- Donna says Jonny Flynn looked a little off all day, probably due to some sort of illness.
- Mike Waters explains how Villanova's smaller line-up confounded the Orange.
- The Three Idiots give Kristof! his kudos for once again playing his ass off.
- Jameson thinks the time has come for Syracuse to drop the zone for man-to-man.
- Cuse Country charts the string of possessions where it all went wrong.
- Bud Poliquin wonders if it's time to start worrying about SU's proximity to the bubble. (Answer: No...not yet).
Well at least the atmosphere was festive before the game: