After The Great Syracuse-Purdue Internet Skirmish of 2010, I started chatting with Hammer & Rails proprietor Travis Miller about the worlds of Purdue and Syracuse basketball in an effort to get to know one another a little better. Part I of our ongoing discussion was posted yesterday over there, discussing how much of a surprise it is to see both teams doing so well. Part II picks up with a question posed to me about "the other Syracuse team."
Note: Most of these e-mails were made before this weekend's games.
H&R: Obviously the LeMoyne game is a hot issue in this debate. Some argue it doesn't matter because it was an exhibition, but this team obviously learned from it. How much of a concern was it at the time it happened? Don't you think it is different from an NFL exhibition because those are at least played against other NFL teams, while this is like the Saints losing to a MAC team?
TNIAAM: At the time? The sky fell, the seas boiled and heaven went silent. We didn't understand what could possibly have caused this to happen. We knew the team would have some issues but we didn't realize it had "lose to LeMoyne" issues.
As days went on we came to understand that Jim Boeheim basically willed this to happen. He was so upset with the players over their poor defensive play, that he "punished" them by making them play man-to-man the entire game, something they were completely not used to doing.
Now that said, you would think the athletes who attend SU would still be able to beat the athletes who attend LeMoyne, so, it remains a bit of a mystery. The only conclusion I can really come up with is that on the same night Syracuse played in a style that was completely foreign and confusing to them, LeMoyne played the game of their lives. Couple that with the fact that, for SU, there was nothing to gain in this one, and it has all the makings of the Orange looking way, way past the Dolphins.
I honestly believe if SU doesn't lose that game, they're not 24-1 right now. It taught them so much about themselves and their ever-pressing need to stay focused on the game in front of them. They almost lost that focus when they traveled to DePaul a couple weeks ago but were able to pull it back. Not to say I enjoyed the fallout from the loss, but the Orange have used it about as positively as a team ever could.
And I don't know if folks who didn't go or live in Syracuse can truly appreciate the impact. LeMoyne is literally right down the road. Like, five minutes away. No one pays them much attention at SU, like an annoying little brother that shows up at parties every once in a while. So when that loss happened, it was disturbing in the town to say the least.
Moving away from the current basketball season for a bit, the story that binds both our schools is the never-ending Big Ten Expansion discussion. Texas is the hot school du jour. Other days its Pitt or Mizzou or Syracuse or even Rutgers. Does the Big Ten need to expand? Would Syracuse be a good fit in your opinion? Who's the best fit? Or is it multiple schools?
H&R: I don't think it is necessary, but I think it is going to happen based on football alone. Right now, the conference is in a unique scenario where it is possible to not decide a true champion since we don't have a full round robin or a championship game. This almost worked out for the best in 2002 when Ohio State and Iowa finished with undefeated conference records. Had Iowa not lost to Iowa State, the National Championship game could have been an all-Big Ten affair between unbeaten teams (though defending champ Miami might have had a say).
I thin it will happen because of the money they can make off that conference title game. I honestly think it will come down to Pittsburgh or Missouri. Missouri is reportedly the most interested in joining, while Pittsburgh makes the most sense to give Penn State a more natural rival. That rival could be Syracuse, but I just don't see it happening even though the Orange played a Big Ten-lite schedule in football this year.
Texas is a pipe dream. I don't think Texas will join not because of football or basketball, but because of baseball. They are a national powerhouse in that quickly growing sport. It is getting more and more national coverage and is even a revenue generating sport at some schools. There is no way they would join essentially a mid-major conference they would simply dominate in said sport. I am not sure a team of Big Ten All-Stars would be on par with most Texas baseball squads.
So what are your thoughts on Big Ten expansion? You've seen the Big East raided before, how would you react to it happening a second time. How does Syracuse stack up in academics and historic rivalries even with the football team currently struggling?
TNIAAM: I think it makes sense. I don't like the current college sports system but if we're going have rules based around the conference system, its in your best interest to take full advantage of them. The Big Ten should absolutely try to become a 12-team conference and reap the benefits.
I think that if a Big East team leaves, it will signal the end of the line for the conference. Not to say the conference will disappear overnight. But because the team that leaves will be one of the football schools, I think we will have officially jumped the shark. Replace Pitt or SU or Rutgers with all the East Carolinas and Memphis' you like...it's just not the Big East anymore.
Plus, I would imagine that if a Pitt jumped, SU, West Virginia, Rutgers and UConn would immediately start trying to convince the Big Ten to expand to 14 teams so they can come too.
The Big East's problem is that its reactive and not proactive. Because the people in charge come from Providence, they're tilted towards the basketball side of things and the "traditional" aspect of the conference. In situations like this, you need to put tradition aside for a second and think about survival. Survival fro the Big East means expanding right now in football. And if that means we trim the fat with some basketball-only programs (DePaul...), so be it.
Let's assume it was Syracuse, I would say we stack up quite well academically. Amongst non-Ivy League schools, we're among the top private universities out there. What we lack in student population we make up for by being THE pro team in every sport in a two hour radius.
Football aside, almost every SU athletics program is competitive. You know about basketball, our lacross program is the best in the nation and our women's programs are fantastic. As for football, long-term, we're still a viable program. The 14th winningest program all-time and remember, it was only 6 years ago we went to a bowl and we're only ten years removed from a BCS bowl. It's not like we've been horrible forever. And we're moving in the right direction.
I think if the Big Ten came calling, SU would absolutely listen. SU fans (myself included) might not want to leave the Big East, but financially it's probably the right move. Plus, the Big East just refuses to provide the long-term security you'd hope for if you wanted to stay. Until I see otherwise, that is.
I'm looking at Joe Lunardi's bracketology right now (Friday) and he's got SU as a 1-seed in the South. Purdue is the 2-seed. If the showdown in the Elite Eight happens...who wins?
H&R: Good final question. I know that Syracuse is known for their stout 2-3 zone. It is not something that Purdue sees very often and honestly, we struggle against zone defenses. It is the reason we have lost two in a row to Northwestern and it really should be three in a row. We see their 1-3-1 and we act like we have no idea what to do. We ahve had our most success when we can get JaJuan Johnson going inside. He also has range from about 20 feet, so it is hard to play him in man. The 2-3 zone could effectively neutralize him and we'd be in trouble.
That said, I think it would be interesting to see how Syracuse's offense would respond to our physical defense. We haven't been that great defensively of late and we've had a tendency to give up big second half leads. I feel that if we can start playing better defense things will come along because we're really clicking offensively at the moment. The first half of the MSU game was probably our best half of the season.
I think the team that figures out the opposing defense would win. In that regard, it depends on JJ for us. If you can stop him, you will stop our offense.
TNIAAM: Yeah I feel like there's some similarities in that Syracuse has a tendency to play one half really well and the other half really poorly. They either get out to a big lead and struggle to hold on or they get in a hole and dig themselves out. Like most opponents, if you've got a hot hand from three-point-range, that spells doom for the zone and SU.
If you look at the Pitt game, we got manhandled in that one. A big part of the game would likely be hos much the refs let'm play because if Purdue can keep the pressure on physically, the Orange will struggle.
I agree that it would probably come down to who breaks down the other team's defense. And then depending on whether or not JaJuan Johnson gets red-hot or if Wes Johnson decides to take over, that'll tip the scales.
Thanks to Travis at Hammer & Rails for taking the time. If we happen to cross paths with Purdue in the NCAA Tourney, this is where you should go to talk smack. Nice smack, though. Gentile smack.