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Syracuse Basketball: NIT Season Tip-Off Impressions

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The Bernie Fine saga was not nearly as far along just last Friday, but it was already enough of a terrible situation that watching actual Syracuse basketball was a very welcome distraction.

Going into the tournament, we were the unquestioned favorite to win it all.  None of the other three teams- Virginia Tech, Stanford, or Oklahoma State- seemed to be a really viable threat, especially at Syracuse City-State stronghold Madison Square Garden.  Not to insinuate that Syracuse played to the best of its abilities, because that definitely wasn't the case in New York last week, but I came away relatively impressed with the two teams we played.  I'm not sure if Virginia Tech is a tournament team, and I almost hope that they get left on the wrong side of the bubble once again because watching Seth Greenberg complain about it come March is one of my ritualistic springtime pleasures, but they were better than I anticipated.  I definitely think Stanford could contend in the very weak PAC-12, and it wouldn't shock me to see them in the big dance.

I didn't expect the Garden to be quite so empty for these games.  I figured with Thanksgiving, and the fact that none of the other three teams are local or travel well for basketball, it would be a smallish crowd, but it was pretty striking.  I won't complain, because it more or less allowed us to pick our own seats for the games, but it would have been nice to see it fill up more.  Probably 90% of the fans who did show up were Syracuse supporters.  Virginia Tech had a few hundred fans on Wednesday, and Stanford's crowd was similar on Friday.  I only remember seeing one Oklahoma State fan the entire time.

Not seeing Scoop Jardine in the end of the game is still pretty bizarre, since he's been such a mainstay at the point in crunch time over the last two years, but I don't have a major problem with it because Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters has so clearly (to me at least) been our best backcourt.  I'm still not going to worry about Scoop, but it is strange to see him struggle to put everything together.  There are games where he distributes well (four assists v. no turnovers vs. Virginia Tech) but can't find the scoring touch (two points), and others he scores well (14 points vs. Stanford) but is sloppy with the ball (three assists vs. six turnovers).  I'd rather have a pass first point guard, but two points from one of our starting guards, especially when we still don't have a consistent offensive presence from our bigs, isn't going to cut it.

Triche was awesome against Va Tech- 18 points (7/12 from the field, 4/6 from three) with six assists and only two turnovers.  After all of the whispers about chemistry issues last year, watching him and Dion work together in the backcourt has been pretty tremendous.  Both can bring the ball up the court, and both are making very good decisions for the most part.  Triche is definitely more aggressive this year, and it is paying off.  His game against Stanford wasn't quite as good, especially when looking at the four turnovers, but he still scored a relatively efficient 11 points on seven shots.

Right now, it's all just Dion Waiters' world and we're watching him retweet it.  After a rough opening half against Virginia Tech, it was great to see Waiters rebound and really take over the second half, during which he scored all 11 of his points.  Waiters followed it up with a solid 10 point effort against Stanford.  I still cringe whenever he shoots a three, and he makes the occasional overzealous play, but he's been very good about reeling himself in and playing smart basketball.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Michael Carter-Williams is really in the plans for this season.  I think he'll continue to get playing time, and I hope he impresses against Eastern Michigan and the rest of the mid-majors we'll play before conference games start, but unless we have a comfortable lead, I don't expect MCW to get many key minutes from here on out.

Kris Joseph seems to be almost 100% back from his health issues.  I don't think he's played this consistently well since before the concussion last year.  He's scoring in a variety of ways, and he's rebounding incredibly well - pulling down 10 boards against Virginia Tech and nine against Stanford.  Kris is the only guy who I see being kept in the lineup in key situations at all costs right now.

Virginia Tech was a patented great CJ Fair game.  He scored efficiently, he grabbed a lot of boards and played smart basketball.  He wasn't quite as effective against Stanford, but he still put up 10 and five.  Even when he's not at his best, Fair will rarely put a game in jeopardy.  He just doesn't make bad mistakes.

It was weird to see James Southerland get such limited minutes considering how well he had played prior to the MSG games.  James didn't score in the two games, and only grabbed one rebound in each, but I'm not ready to write him off.  We were in trouble in both games, and I don't think Boeheim thought we could keep Kris and CJ off the floor.  I expect James to get a lot of minutes against EMU.

Rakeem Christmas is entering into the territory that Fab Melo was stuck in last year.  He's just not going to play very much, especially if he makes mistakes early.   It won't get easier for him to see minutes if CJ keeps playing as well as he has, and if Southerland starts to heat up again.  I almost expect CJ to eventually replace Christmas in the starting lineup, but I'm not sure if Boeheim would do that considering the fact that Melo started almost  every game last year.

On Fab Melo, how great was it to see him contribute on a big stage?  He didn't rebound very well against Virginia Tech, only grabbing two during the game, but he also blocked five (!) shots.  A lot of the blocks weren't even near the basket, he's been great about deflecting mid-range jumpers.  He was much better on the glass against Stanford, grabbing nine rebounds, and blocked another three shots and played 32 minutes.  I don't know if any of us could have fathomed Fab playing over 30 minutes, but he seemed to do it quite easily on Friday.  Fab scored six points in each game.  I think we'll take that.

Baye Keita's been struggling recently, and was held off that stat sheet aside from seven total fouls and one rebound in the two games.  I expect him to be okay, but we definitely need him to play well, because Fab isn't going to play this well every night, and we will see some foul trouble at the center spot.