Two weeks ago the YouTube clip du jour in college hoops circles was this video of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim meeting with the press at the Carrier Dome on January 25, right after the Orangemen had blown past Georgetown 73-56. Included in this clip’s 62 seconds is the following exchange:
REPORTER: Coach, do you have a special feeling about this year’s team?
BOEHEIM: I have my special feelings when it’s over. Anything else is premature. Premature anything isn’t very good.
Doff your cap one more time to a guy who can quip so deftly, whip up a nifty double entendre in the customarily stultifying cinderblock tomb known as the postgame presser, and, not least, be exactly right about his team. The celebration of Syracuse was indeed premature.
It’s not just that the Orangemen lost yesterday at the Carrier Dome to Louisville, 66-60. It’s not even that Boeheim’s team has looked so flat in each of its last two games, including their 72-67 win at home over Connecticut last Wednesday.
No, for me it’s that Syracuse just isn’t scary enough. The Orangemen are clearly a very good team and their defense is outstanding. But “special feeling”? Best Syracuse team ever? Put it this way. Boeheim’s men are scoring 1.08 points per trip in Big East play. The conference average is 1.06. There’s no precedent in recent years for an offense this mediocre (in relation to its conference) getting to the Final Four, much less winning it all.
The problem is too many turnovers, specifically in the backcourt. Andy Rautins, Brandon Triche, and Scoop Jardine all sport high turnover rates. As a result Syracuse has given the ball away on 22 percent of their possessions in conference play, the worst such figure in the Big East.
That’s not to say the Orangemen are doomed. It’s only mid-February. Maybe the ‘Cuse offense will improve. (For one thing next Tuesday’s game at Providence should help Syracuse’s numbers on offense, if you get my drift.) Or maybe they’ll break a precedent and get to the Final Four even though they have the Big East’s eighth-best offense. But right now I’m thinking Boeheim knows whereof he speaks, even if he’s making the assembled reporters laugh in the process.
The shooting was already there in Columbus. The D? That’s new. Ohio State is on what can only be termed a rampage through the Big Ten, the latest proof being their 72-53 shellacking of previously hot Illinois in Champaign yesterday. The Buckeyes played their first two Big Ten games without Evan Turner, who was recovering from his back injury, and even when Turner first returned he was still rounding into form. As a result Thad Matta’s team started out 1-3 in-conference. But starting with Turner’s unforgettable “OK, I’m back” moment at Purdue on January 12, OSU is 9-0 in Big Ten play, outscoring conference opponents by an Illinois-in-2005-like 0.22 points per trip.
One thing about the Buckeyes that may not be clear unless you watch them for several games is that they are in the midst of an incredible two-season run of excellent shooting. In fact in the book I had this to say about Ohio State’s amazing accuracy last year: “While I don’t wish to be unduly gloomy, the strong likelihood is that Matta could coach until he’s Joe Paterno’s age without ever again having a team that shoots this well.” Statistically my reckless statement is looking good, but in this instance looks are deceiving. Again, Turner missed six games. But if you run into this team anytime soon you should know they’re once again draining their shots. (As in making 58 percent of their twos during this current nine-game Big Ten win streak.)
Of course great shooting didn’t get last year’s Buckeyes any further than a 9-seed and a first-round loss to Siena. What’s new and different about this year’s edition is that they’re defending people. On paper their D is second only to Wisconsin’s in Big Ten play, and even this understates how good they’ve been with a healthy Turner. No defense in the conference forces turnovers as well. Moreover, the Buckeyes play a fair amount of zone yet take care of the defensive glass. And they never foul. (They can’t. They have no depth.) This is a really good team, one that hosts Purdue in Columbus Wednesday night and then plays at Michigan State on Saturday. They merit your viewing.
By now you’ve seen the horribly sad mug shot (which I refuse to link to–google if you must) of former Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton, who was arrested on Thursday in Stillwater for allegedly trying to import painkillers from out of state. Sometimes I wonder if Bill Self ever tosses and turns at night, knowing that it was his alma mater’s mistaken and indeed irrational belief that they might be able to hire him away from Kansas that led to Sutton being pushed out the door in April of 2008. (A push that was announced at the time by OSU with the following creepily Orwellian headline: “Sean Sutton and Mike Holder Reach Mutual Agreement About Future of OSU Basketball.” As I said in that year’s book, if you ever read about me coming to a “mutual agreement” with my employer like this, promise me you’ll come check my air supply.)
Who knows, maybe if 18-year-old Bill Self had decided to attend Oklahoma instead of Oklahoma State in the fall of 1981, Sutton may have kept his job. More importantly, I’m convinced that any reasonably capable coach would have been able to get the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament in 2009, just like Travis Ford did. The same team elements–basically returning possession-minutes–that led me to believe that Virginia would be better than expected this year were in place for the ‘Pokes heading into 2008-09. If I’m right Oklahoma State’s decision to oust Sutton was a true “Sliding Doors” moment for the coach.
In today’s less Orwellian venues….
The fantastic game that no one saw. On Friday night when much of the world was watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Pitt beat West Virginia 98-95 in triple-OT. Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker had 24 points apiece for the Panthers, with the former player reaching that total while playing all 50 minutes….Missouri Valley personnel notes. Last night Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson announced that 7-footer Jordan Eglseder has been suspended for three games. Eglseder was arrested early yesterday morning in Cedar Falls for drunken driving. Also yesterday Creighton coach Dana Altman announced that P’Allen Stinnett is done for the year, due to unspecified conduct detrimental to the team. Stinnett had initially been suspended on January 25….Conference supremacy watch. The best team in the Pac-10 is pretty clearlyCal. Ditto for UTEP in CUSA. More to follow tomorrow in Tuesday Truths….The SEC race isn’t exactly close, but. One interesting little item to track is what Vanderbilt is achieving in the way of getting to the line. The Commodores are sporting a higher in-conference number for FTA/FGA (0.59) than any major-conference team in the country. By far. (Take that, Kansas State and Texas A&M!) Indeed Vandy has shot 312 freebies in just ten SEC games….Degree of DeChellis has gone west! The clutch Lobos of New Mexico won their second OT Mountain West game in as many tries, this time at Utah on Saturday by the score of 68-65. Steve Alford’s team remains in a first-place tie with BYU in the loss column….This just in: The A-10 is really good! On Saturday Xavierwon at Florida, 76-64….Dukedid what Duke does at home. The Blue Devils blew away Maryland 77-56 without too much trouble. Through some kind of communications mix-up, the referees in this game did not call fouls on Brian Zoubek on every Duke defensive possession, meaning the senior could actually attempt shots, run up and down the floor, etc. A 16-17 double-double was the result. Return match between Devils and Terps happens in a couple weeks….And one more thing. That OT loss at San Francisco notwithstanding, Gonzaga is the best team in the WCC.
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