ATB: Wesley Johnson Makes Syracuse Better Than Last YearPosted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2009
Coaches vs. Cancer.
Addition by Subtraction? Syracuse 87, North Carolina 71. We all knew that Roy Williams’ Carolina team was likely to take a bit of a step back this season after losing four players (Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson, Green) to the NBA Draft, and we expected the same from Syracuse after losing the core (Flynn, Harris, Devendorf) of its Sweet Sixteen squad. But is it possible that Syracuse, with the addition of multi-dimensional forward Wesley Johnson and the natural progression of players such as Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine, are actually better than they were in 2008-09? Forget the loss to Le Moyne in the preseason — when the games have actually counted, they’ve mauled every opponent they’ve faced by an average of 27.5 pts. Albany and Robert Morris, sure — but highly-ranked California by 22 and North Carolina by 16? Not so much. As Roy Williams put it after the game, Syracuse “beat the dickens out of us,” and he wasn’t exaggerating. The Orange broke out of a 39-37 deficit at halftime with a ridiculous 22-1 run that had Carolina looking as befuddled as they’ve been in what seems like a long time (don’t let anyone tell you that it’s actually been that long, though – the 2008 Final Four game against Kansas looked similar for long stretches). The key to that stretch of play was that North Carolina all of a sudden looked much like the young, inexperienced team that they are. Williams made sure to stress that youth isn’t an excuse, but during the blitzkrieg by SU it was clear that many of the Heels were uncertain how to stem the tide, incapable at this point in their development of settling their nerves with several bad decisions on both ends of the court. At the end of the night, it was obvious that the better team (with the best player, Johnson) won the game. We have to be careful to crown anyone with anything this early in the season, but there’s no doubt that Syracuse is much further along than UNC, and we found ourselves wondering (along with Ray Floriani) if this year’s version of the Orange might actually be better off with the talented trio of Flynn, Harris and Devendorf out of the picture. Sometimes those players, particularly Harris and Devendorf, could cause more problems than they solved for Jim Boeheim. Is it possible that the group he has now — last year’s backups + Johnson (transfer) and Jardine (redshirt) — have better team chemistry and trust for each other, resulting in wonderfully efficient execution on both ends? Boeheim would never admit to it, but there could be something to this.
Can We Send Cal Home 0-3? Ohio State 76, California 70. Memo to Pac-10 teams. Don’t bother sending your schools back east unless they plan on actually showing up for the games. For the second consecutive night, Mike Montgomery’s California team got completely outclassed by a bigger, more athletic foe that simply imposed its will on the Bears in the first half, rendering the second stanza as (mostly) garbage time. Ohio State was much better tonight than they were last night, hitting five threes in the first half over the much shorter Bears, and generally controlling the game from start to finish. Dallas Lauderdale in particular tortured the Cal interior players, getting credited for seven blocks and generally intimidating any Cal player of consequence who entered his lane. Evan Turner was masterful as usual, notching another near-triple double of 26/14/6 assts on 9-14 FG. More importantly for Thad Matta, Turner cut down his turnover total to a more reasonable (yet high) four, quite a few less than his ten last evening against UNC. Jerome Randle was once again the only bright spot for Cal, as he dropped 26/3 assts in what was clearly a frustrating couple of games for the competitive guard. The loss of Theo Robertson for these last two games with a stress reaction was undoubtedly a tough blow, but we’re not convinced that Cal would have beaten either Syracuse or Ohio State even with Jason Kidd back on campus. Their problems with the interior players are just too damning, and there doesn’t appear to be any easy solution. So what have we learned from this? First, if Cal is indeed the best team in the Pac-10, then there won’t be a single Pac-10 team beyond the second round in March (again), and secondly, if there’s a better player than Ohio State’s Evan Turner (22/15/6 assts), he’d better start putting up some ridiculous games soon or the NPOY race will be over before it gets started.
Upsets of the Night. Several mildish upsets floating around tonight.
- Tulane 63, Penn State 60. A mild upset in the Charleston Classic given how terrible Tulane was last year and their 0-2 start this season. Penn State’s Talor Battle was off tonight (3-13 FG), and PSU will obviously struggle on the nights they cannot rely on his offensive production, but it was Kevin Sims’ three at the top of the circle with 19 seconds remaining that gave Tulane the lead for good and ultimately the win.
- DePaul 60, Northern Iowa 52. The very worst team in the Big East from 2008-09 took out the preseason Missouri Valley favorite in the Paradise Jam – can any conclusions be drawn from this? Mac Koshwal blew up for 12/19/4 assts while shutting down star big man Jordan Eglsider (2/6) in the process.
- UCF 84, Auburn 74. Is Auburn epically bad or what? UCF torched the Tiger defense for 52% shooting to notch its first-ever win against an SEC team (1-27) in its history. AJ Tyler led the way for UCF with 19/8, while MJ’s kid added 7/2 in 21 minutes of action (because we know you were wondering).
- St. Joseph’s 84, Boston College 80. It appears that good ol’ unreliable BC is back, as the Eagles dropped one to a St. Joe’s team that isn’t expecting much success this season. BC allowed SJU to hit ten threes, which was ultimately the difference in the game. Garrett Williamson was the leading scorer (18/4) for St. Joseph’s.
Puerto Rico Tipoff.
- #6 Villanova 71, #21 Dayton 65. The Wildcats were up by as many as 18 in the second half but Dayton closed to within two points with just over two minutes left; Corey Fisher was cool at the free throw line in the final minutes as ‘Nova resisted the balanced attack of the Flyers. Fisher led all scorers with 18 points. Dayton’s Luke Fabrizius (16/9) paced the second-half comeback attempt, hitting three of his five three-pointers in the second stanza, but Taylor King (14/9) and Antonio Pena (13/7) steadied Villanova well enough to hold on.
- #19 Georgia Tech 70, George Mason 62. George Mason continues to scare the bejeezus out of ranked opponents but again just couldn’t quite get over the hump, this time against the Yellow Jackets, who got 18 points apiece from Gani Lawal and superstar freshman Derrick Favors. George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga bemoaned the inside domination of the two Georgia Tech big men, noting that he couldn’t remember a game in which his team “…had been dunked on so much. The two big guys just manhandled us inside.”
- Mississippi 86, Kansas State 74. Ole Miss moved to 4-0 on the season and got huge production from one of the nation’s most underrated guard combos in Terrico White (25/7) and Chris Warren (27/2/3). Sophomore Murphy Holloway notched a double-double (10/10/2 blocks), as well. K-State forward Curtis Kelly stepped up with 18 points and 10 boards, and both Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente both added 17 points apiece, but with those guards, you can’t let the Rebels (or any team, for that matter) shoot 63% in the second half when you’re already down by two at the half.
- Boston University 71, Indiana 67. Score another one for the sub-Red Liners (we hope you know what this means). Indiana led by five at the half and were up as many as nine in the second verse, but the Terriers tied it with a little less than three minutes left, kept their cool at the free throw line near the end, and held on to bounce the Hoosiers. Indiana got strong games from Maurice Creek (17/6) and Jeremiah Rivers (13/6/4) but simply couldn’t outduel Jake O’Brien’s 14/13 and swingman John Holland’s 21/5. Hoosier head coach Tom Crean tweeted after the game, “Nights like this make us remember we are in a full scale rebuilding mode. The level of effort it requires is incredible but worth it.” Positivity is one thing, but spin is another, and we wonder how long until the Hoosier faithful will remain as patient as they have been, as it looks like another trying year for IU.
Other Games of National Interest.
- #2 Michigan State 75, Toledo 62. Raymar Morgan missed this one with a bum ankle but Draymond Green’s 15 points and Delvon Roe’s 11 rebounds led the Spartans to their 42nd straight victory over non-conference opponents and brought Tom Izzo to within one victory of Jud Heathcoate’s all-time mark at MSU. Izzo, though, felt his players got too cocky near the end of this one and appeared unhappy with the final margin, confessing, “We’ve just got a lot of work to do.”
- #7 Purdue 74, South Dakota State 63. E’Twaun Moore’s 22 points and a double-double from JaJuan Johnson (13/10/5 blocks) led the Boilermakers over the Jackrabbits, even though Purdue chief Matt Painter proclaimed SDSU to have been “tougher and quicker” than his team. Down only two at half (37-39), SDSU committed 12 of their 18 turnovers in the second half and it proved to be their undoing. Robbie Hummel added 14 points for the Boilermakers.
- #11 Tennessee 105, East Carolina 66. The Volunteers continued to pound away at lesser foes, turning up the pace against the Pirates and forcing East Carolina into 35 turnovers, the highest number of UT coach Bruce Pearl’s tenure. The story here, though, was the Vols’ Scotty Hopson, who scored 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting including 4-5 from beyond the three-point arc…in 23 minutes of play. East Carolina coach Mack McCarthy lamented about Hopson’s prowess: “What is he, 14 of 18 this season? There are guys who aren’t shooting that from the free throw line.”
- #14 Washington 80, San Jose State 70. Interesting subplot in this one. SJSU junior guard Adrian Oliver isn’t just a former Washington player who transferred…he’s also Quincy Pondexter’s former roommate. Oliver left during 2007′s Christmas break, leaving Pondexter feeling betrayed; Pondexter has what is probably the line of the year so far, saying of Oliver, “He left me as a teammate. He left me as a friend. He left me with the rent!” And please note — living in Seattle isn’t cheap. In this duel, Oliver definitely stepped up with 32/8/4, but Pondexter countered with career highs in points (30) and boards (15). Pondexter continued his clowning after the game, adding, “He got what he wanted. He’s at a school where he can score as much as he wanted. But I’m happy. He got 32 points. I got the win.”
- #16 Michigan 77, Houston Baptist 55. The formidable one-two punch of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims is going to be a tough one for any opponent to overcome this season, and it’s only going to get worse if the 6’8 Sims decides to start hitting threes like he did against the Huskies on Friday. Sims (22/6) hit five of eight three point attempts and stated after the game, “My three-point percentage is going to be out of the roof this year compared to last year,” when he shot 30%. Manny Harris led everyone with 25/8/3/2 steals and continues a strong campaign for all-America status; Houston Baptist got a strong game from senior Mario Flaherty (17/13/3) but in the end the talent gap was simply too much.
- #23 Clemson 89, UNC-Greensboro 67. Trevor Booker tallied 17 points, 9 rebounds, and three steals for the Tigers, but it’s time for panic at Clemson (yes, we’re kidding), as this marked the first time this season that someone stayed within 40 points of them. Eleven different players scored for the Tigers including six different fellows off the bench, most notably Andre Young (13/3/3) and Milton Jennings (14/4/1).
- FIU 83, NC Central 73. Isiah Thomas notches his first D1 victory tonight against NC Central. Marvin Roberts had 21/10 in the winning effort.