Against Louisville on Saturday, the Syracuse hoops team finally started to look a little
more like the team that dominated against early season Big East opponents. Instead of
eking the win, they generally played well for the last 30 minutes of the game. This team
still seems to lack the killer instinct that many championship teams possess, which was
once again evidenced in the second half of this game, but SU put the game away at the
end instead of letting it turn into a free-throw contest.
While the non-conference season was fun, and early Big East games against Seton
Hall, Providence, Villanova and Pitt were only slightly more challenging, the rest of the
conference season has been a struggle, regardless of record. While it does say something
about the composure of this team, partially due to the senior leadership and experience
from guys like Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and Brandon Triche, it would not take much
in terms of a missed shot, bad bounce, a missed call, or even the lack of a missed call
(against WVU) for this team to have an additional three to four losses.
At some points of the season, especially within certain games, it has even been somewhat
painful to watch this team get pounded on the boards, especially at the defensive end, and
miss jump shot after jump shot. After getting two of my wisdom teeth pulled on Friday, I
realized that process was not that much unlike watching SU recently:
Novocain injections: a little painful, but done quickly and overall a good thing at the end
of the day. This is not unlike Rakeem Christmas’s 1-2 minutes per game before getting
yanked. I am convinced that Boeheim only starts him because Fab is horrible at winning
the opening tip.
Extraction #1: the initial wrenching, pushing and yanking makes you think this could
be a really long, miserable experience, similar to SU’s consistently poor starts to games.
Cuse inevitably stems the tide and settles down, making you feel much better about their
prospects, much like when the first tooth finally comes out.
Extraction #2: after the first tooth comes out, you know you’re halfway there and in a
hurry for the second one to come out. This is similar to SU fans just waiting for Cuse to
go on one of its usual 18-2 runs that turns an eight point deficit into an eight point lead.
Second tooth out, process over! Syracuse goes on a 17-1 run to take the lead against
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim
Back at home, feeling okay, just changing some bloody gauze. Cuse playing even for a
while, matches mini-runs by other team to stay ahead by just enough that you don’t really
worry about it.
Novocain wearing off. Deep throbbing. Pain. Uh-oh. Opponent finally hits a couple
threes, Cuse misses some bunnies and next thing you know, game is way too close.
Pop a couple of Vicodin. Ahhh, much better. Cuse makes a couple big plays to open up
the lead enough to take the edge off.
Wow, those Vicodin are strong. Getting a little dizzy. Am I flying? Scoop and Kris miss
important free throws at the end of the game that would have closed it out.
Nausea wears off. In the clear…at least for the next six hours: Cuse makes some free
throws, plays good defense, forces a tough shot and gets the rebound. Game over.
Finishes like these just make you wonder what could happen against a tough-rebounding
or hot-shooting team in the tournament if Cuse doesn’t have one of their runs or strong
finishes in them.
Yes, the analogy got a little old, but Cuse fans get it. It’s been a tough ride, but this
has been an enjoyable team to watch and the players are all around likeable, which
makes it that much more fun. The way they’ve handled everything with the Bernie
Fine investigation, the Fab Melo “academic issue” and tough games along the way is
impressive and hopefully a sign to come for the inevitable tough game in the NCAA
tourney. Syracuse fans have an inherent dread, in all sports, that their good teams are
going to fail when the big spotlight is on them. It’s happened too many times to count in
all major sports (this includes lacrosse in Syracuse). But I just don’t see it with this team.
They really are a very good basketball team, with emphasis on team, even without a
sure-fire lottery pick (or even a sure-fire first rounder—are you listening, Fab and Dion?
). They are unselfish, they don’t turn the ball over and they play terrific team defense.
Even when they don’t block shots or steal the ball, both of which they do a lot, they make
teams take tough shots and they contest all threes, lest they be summoned by Boeheim to
the bench. It is no fluke that this team is 30-1; they have what it takes to make a run in
March and April.
Every year, you hope your team goes to the Final Four, even if deep down inside you
know that they really aren’t one of the best four teams in the country. After all they’ve
been through this year and with all the great moments along the way, I really want
Syracuse to get to New Orleans this year because they deserve it this time. Like all
Cuse fans, I can’t help but feel like a long NCAA tournament ride was stolen away
when Arinze Onuaku went down in 2010. Despite its recent string of strong teams, SU
isn’t exactly a UNC, Duke, Kansas or Kentucky where anything but a Final Four is a
disappointment. With all of that in mind, people up here are cautiously optimistic that
this team can get to the Final Four so they can overcome their inherent dread and really
celebrate what has been a wonderful season put together by a terrific team. Hopefully
this Cuse hoops team has a few more Vicodin in its back pocket.
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