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Syracuse Basketball: Observations from the Phone Booth

Notes from the nose-bleeds during last night's Sweet 16 win over Indiana, as well as a few thoughts on tomorrow's match-up with Marquette.


As Jared noted this morning, we spent almost a week talking mismatches: Indiana had the two first round picks, and shooters on shooters on shooters to blow up the zone from the outside, and Cody Zeller was the perfect zone buster for the foul line offense, and Victor Oladipo was going to shut down whoever he defended...basically, Indiana had all the tools to beat the Orange. Sure, we had a five inch advantage at both guard spots and to be honest, Jim Boeheim is a much better game coach than Tom Crean, but OLADIPO, ZELLER YOU GUYS!

As it turns out, Boeheim was better equipped to take advantage of SU's mismatches than Crean was on the other end. People often accuse Boeheim of just rolling the ball out there and letting the team play, and I think that this is true on *some* occasions, but last night was a true display of a master at work.

On the first offensive possession of the game, Michael Carter-Williams gave up the ball and immediately posted up Yogi Ferrell on the block and tried to score that way. While he missed the shot, it showed that Boeheim knew exactly how he wanted to win this game. 38 points from the Orange back court later, Boeheim looked like a smart coach.

If we're being honest, I didn't think Syracuse was going to win this game. Style and match-ups are huge in the tournament, and I didn't think that Syracuse would try to slow Indiana down, and if the Orange did, I didn't think they would be able to score efficiently. Syracuse's half court offense has been a mess for much of this season, and I thought that Indiana would be able to find enough outside shooting to win a rock fight, if we tried to create that kind of tempo. Shame on me for not having a WINNING MENTALITY. As it turns out, I was completely wrong.

SU looked as comfortable in the half-court as it has since Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson were lurking on the perimeter. The offense didn't exactly light the world on fire, but it got good looks, and the defense was so disruptive that we didn't need to shoot the lights out. Defensively, there's no reason for me to expound on what's already been said. This team has been good on that end of the floor all year, but this was an all-world performance.

Last night was probably the best zone defense I've seen from an SU team against a legit opponent, and I think that Indiana is probably the best offensive team in the country. If you block ten shots, force 18 turnovers, and hold a team to 33% from the field and 20% from three, you will win 99% of the time. We should consider doing it more often.

- Carter-Williams had his best game in orange, and I think it's hard for people to say that they don't see why he is a lottery pick. He only recorded one assist, largely because he played almost the entire second half off the ball, but he didn't turn it over, and his shot selection was pretty good. Indiana effectively forced Carter-Williams into a scoring role, a place he has been uncomfortable in the past, and MCW responded by taking the ball to the hoop and taking advantage of his major size advantage when he was matched up on IU's guards. Admittedly, I wanted to close my eyes every time he pulled up from three, but he went 3-for-6 so I can't really complain. He was a total pest on defense, but he was also great about staying within the gameplan. Against other teams, MCW might have forced more run outs off of those steals, but the restrained pace really helped suffocate Indiana's attack.

- We've been saying it for almost four years now, and it hasn't ever really come true to this point, but I think Brandon Triche is finally breaking out of his shell...and frankly, he's picking the perfect moment to hatch. He's showing emotion on the court, he's taking the ball to the rim with a purpose, he's drawing fouls...this is the Brandon Triche that we've been waiting for since he was a freshman. A few weeks ago, history could have looked on Triche's career in two massively different ways. If he keeps it up through tomorrow's game, I think we'll remember Brandon very fondly.

- C.J. Fair didn't have his best game, but he wasn't really the focus of the gameplan as he has been recently. Still, 11 points and nine rebounds is nothing to scoff at, and a few of his shots were big ones that allowed Syracuse to break Indiana's momentum, I'm thinking of one he hit with Christian Watford in his face in particular.

- If Crabbe gets hot, I still think Cal can pull this one out.

- I'm happy to report that Baye 'Matrix' Keita is catching on. A few Syracuse fans the section over from me were all about calling out the 'Matrix' whenever Baye made a big play, which was pretty often last night. I'm assuming they're readers. Hi guys! Baye's stat-line isn't really all that impressive, but he played excellent defense on Zeller all night long.

- People will say that James Southerland didn't have a huge impact on the game last night, but I totally disagree. Oladipo spent almost the entire first half on Southerland last night, freeing up MCW and Triche to do their thing, although to be fair, MCW still got great looks when Baye and James screened Oladipo off of MCW in the second half. A player who Boeheim once implied was a worse rebounder than a dead person grabbed seven boards, blocked three shots, and was credited with three steals, although it feels like he got his hands on even more passes than that. More than anything, last night proved that we don't need a monster performance from James to look good on offense. His presence is still huge for spacing, but he only took three total shots, and didn't feel the need to force himself into the offense like he has at points in other games.

- Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney only combined for 13 minutes last night, but they were 13 very effective minutes. Grant had a nice dunk and made two big free throws, and grabbed three rebounds in just nine minutes on the floor, and had a big block, while Cooney was extremely active while he was out there. Say what you will about Cooney's performance this season, but the kid has busted his ass in the zone all year, and will only get better with experience.

- Rakeem Christmas is also on this team. I feel like that should be mentioned.

- I was very happy with the officiating last night. The only things that I ask of officials is to call things consistently for 40 minutes and to call them the same way for both teams. If they want to let teams play, like in the Marquette-Miami game, that's fine. In the SU-IU game the refs were pretty quick with the whistles, but it worked both ways, and they didn't instantly let things turn into a scrum at random points. Indiana shot 24 free throws while Syracuse shot 20, which is the sign of a pretty fairly officiated game.

- The fan breakdown was pretty interesting last night. Syracuse had more people in the building than anyone else, but it was definitely a plurality. Indiana brought a large contingent who tried their darndest to will their team back into things at spots, but the constant turnovers totally sucked the life out of their fanbase. The section over from me had a few solid rows of Hoosier fans, and I looked over at one point late in the first half before they went on their mini-run to close it out, and I felt like I was at a Hoosier funeral. I can't blame them, I've been in the same position, in the same arena, in the same season, in the same month. What a difference a few weeks makes. What shocked me was that IU fans started leaving with about 5:30 remaining in the game. Indiana didn't really ever look like they were going to make a run, but we weren't exactly blowing them out, it was a 12 or 13 point game at that point. A few threes would have gotten them back in it. Bad form, Hoosier fans.

- I was surprised by Miami's turnout. For a program that really hasn't done much before this point, they turned out well in D.C. I was rooting for them for a number of reasons, and I really hope that Jim Larranaga can keep the momentum going at The U. It will be nice to have a few other strong ACC programs to contend with besides Duke, UNC, and Louisville. Their fans were also really cool, from what I can tell. They were disappointed, but they were great about keeping things in perspective.

- Marquette fans had the smallest turnout, although they still made themselves known. Their sections were very loud, and for good reason. I don't think any of them like the "Golden Eagles" mascot. Their entire contingency was doing "go Warriors" chant, which was pretty surreal. That nickname has been gone for almost twenty years. Kudos to them for sticking up for what they believe in, I guess. If yesterday was any indication, Syracuse should have a major crowd advantage tomorrow, and most of the Indiana fans I saw were unloading their tickets (and trying to fleece SU fans while doing so), so I don't expect many Hoosiers around to cheer for their Midwestern brethren. I estimate that Syracuse will have around 75% of the partisan fans in the Verizon Center tomorrow.

- Looking back at our 74-71 loss to Marquette, and you have to be pretty confident that Syracuse can get payback tomorrow. Syracuse was playing on the road in a building where the Golden Eagles were undefeated this year, in the middle of its worst stretch of basketball in two seasons, had Devante Gardner go absolutely crazy against them, and dealt with a ridiculous 35-7 free throw disparity despite the fact that they were the team playing zone while Marquette plays aggressive man. Some are saying that both teams are playing their best basketball, but Marquette probably should have lost to Davidson and were one really awful final play from losing to Butler, and lost their only Big East tournament game to an average Notre Dame squad. Marquette looked amazingly good against Miami, and can absolutely win the game, but I feel very confident about this match-up.

- Let's do this thing, Syracuse. Go Orange.