Head of the Class: C.J. Fair
I said this last week, but it bears repeating. For all of the hoopla surrounding James Southerland’s return, and the hype of flashier teammates like Jerami Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, it is the steady and versatile hand of Fair that typically leads the Orange to victory. Sunday was no exception. Fair once again paced SU with 17 points and added a workmanlike 9 rebounds - narrowly missing his 8th double-double of the season. He showed off his athleticism with a thunderous first half dunk that was waved off by a terrible charge call, and demonstrated his long range stroke by going 2-3 from three point range. It will be a crime if Fair doesn’t make the all-Big East first team, but underrated stars like Rick Jackson have been left off of the team before because they don't get the media accolades they richly deserve.
James Southerland: In his first game back from academic ineligibility, Southerland shook off some early rust to provide the scoring punch off the bench that we have come to expect. He started the game 0-3 from deep, but rallied to bury 3 of 4 the rest of the way en route to 13 points - right on his season average. We also shouldn’t discount the emotional lift his return brought to the Dome faithful, who showered him with cheers during warmups, his first appearance in the game, and after every bucket. His presence returns much of the vaunted depth to the Orange lineup, and allows Jerami Grant (15 minutes) and Trevor Cooney (7) to return to supporting roles they may be more comfortable with.
Team Passing: Syracuse continued its resurgent trend of sharing the ball, which had disappeared in the losses to Temple, Villanova, and Pittsburgh. As a team they racked up 20 assists to only 12 turnovers, with MCW leading the way with 8 assists (only 2 TOs) and Brandon Triche contributing 7. This renewed emphasis on ball movement keeps the forwards and centers invested in the offense, and prevents four players from standing around watching while one of the guards tries to take on the defense one-on-five. Look at Triche and MCW’s assist totals from the three losses to see how much the SU offense depends on them to share the ball with their capable teammates.
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Defensive Rebounding: Once again the Orange were outrebounded by an inferior opponent, this time 28-26. I know the 2-3 zone lends itself to giving up an extra board here and there, but I noticed several possessions where a St. John’s player retrieved the ball without anyone from SU laying so much as a finger on him. SU gave up 10 offensive rebounds to the Red Storm, who aren’t exactly the most physically imposing team in the league. They’re going to have to tighten that up.
Final Grade: A-
The chatter surrounding Southerland’s return made for an interesting day. It’s great to have him back, and he elevates the Orange from a fringe top ten team to a Final Four contender. I think they have a chance to really do some damage the rest of the season if they continue to move the ball and can lock down a few more of those loose defensive rebounds.
James Southerland post-game interview: