ATB: Syracuse Keeps Winning… MSU Keeps Losing…Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2010
The Lede. It was another great year at the Jimmy V Classic, and RTC Live was privileged to have been there. On nights like these, when the Garden is sold out, rockin’ n’ rollin’, a little tipsy and ready to party, it is truly one of the great venues in the entire sport. Unfortunately, there have been far too many of the half-full, sleepwalking variety in recent years there, including the final rounds of the CvC and PNIT last month. New York has always been a town that comes out to see the stars, and we don’t expect that’ll ever change; but, there are bona fide collegiate stars on teams other than Syracuse and Connecticut, so it’d be nice if those games were supported there at least half as well.
Your Watercooler Moment. Let’s Stop Making Excuses. There comes a time where all the statistical number-crunching and subjective analysis of matchups do not amount to anything once two teams actually take the court and play the game (another reason why we’re happy that computers don’t determine our championship round). So it was with tonight’s Syracuse-Michigan State contest in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic. For most of the season we’ve heard that Syracuse is overrated, a product of one mediocre performance after another en route to a deceiving 8-0 record. We’ve also heard that Michigan State is a top five team despite losing to UConn and Duke over the past several weeks, a product of playing well in those “good” losses and the unquestioned pedigree of Mr. Final Four, Tom Izzo. Shouldn’t we take a step back at this point and question those assessments? Here’s what we saw:
- Against by far the toughest opponent Syracuse has faced this season, it was the Orange, not MSU, who set the tone early with its aggressiveness and unobstructed forays to the rim for crowd-energizing dunks.
- Despite having a lineup of predominantly juniors and seniors, Michigan State looked dazed, confused, befuddled and even at times bamboozled by the Syracuse 2-3 zone. We know that they’ve seen such a thing before, yet it appeared as if they hadn’t. They took too many threes (44% of their shots), hit too few (29%) of those attempts, and clearly failed to remember that a zone provides offensive board opportunities (only six all night).
- The pregame news that Kalin Lucas is still not at 100% recovering from his Achilles injury last spring fits with what we saw tonight. Eight points on 3-9 shooting with only two assists but six turnovers isn’t the Lucas who was Big Ten POY. As he did last year, Korie Lucious was serviceable in picking up the slack, but for the Spartans to become a top seeded team in March, Lucas has to make it happen.
- Senior Rick Jackson showed a tenacity on the glass (16 rebounds) that he’ll need to have as Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine grow into leadership roles.
- Fab Melo was well on his way to Yinka Dare-esque assist totals before dropping two shocking dimes tonight. He’d had one previous assist in his entire 108 minutes of action so far this season. Well, it’s good to see that he can do something else other than foul people (0 pts, 0 rebs, 4 fouls).
- Sometimes it’s just your night, as in when you throw an off-balance and probably ill-advised alley-oop, only to have the alley count for a bucket…
Certainly Syracuse will win a whole bunch of supporters after this game, and many people will hop off the Spartan bandwagon. But it’s a long season, we all know that. Right now the Orange are the better team and they’re playing better basketball. But by March this could be a totally different story. Syracuse didn’t need to hit threes tonight because they were defending so well and getting easy buckets inside, but they won’t have the same luxury of “surprise” with the 2-3 zone in the Big East that they had here. Who will be able to knock down those shots when they need them? The jury is still out on that question. Similarly, Michigan State has yet to prove that they’re really a better team than the #5 seed that crashed Indianapolis last March. They certainly appear to have the pieces in place, but all too often the Spartan offense seems to abandon the defense and they dig holes that they can’t quite climb out of. Obviously, you can’t win a national championship without consistent scoring threats — who will that be for Tom Izzo if Kalin Lucas cannot get all the way back this year? All we can definitively say is that Syracuse has earned their top ten ranking, while Michigan State has not. It’s time to stop making excuses for both teams and rank them accordingly now.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Georgia’s Ability to Win Close Games. Most years, there’s no way Georgia goes into Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech and beats the Yellow Jackets, as they did tonight, 73-72. Especially the last miserable few seasons. But Mark Fox’s team has shown a peculiar ability to win tight contests this year, with five of the Dawgs’ six wins coming by a single two-point basket or less. With Trey Thompkins completely back in action after an ankle injury and the element of trust that develops by coming through tight games time and again as the winner (especially in certain Houses of Horror such as Alexander), don’t be surprised if you see the Bulldogs take off in the next month.
- The Morris Twins. The Kansas forwards put up a complete game of 30/15/7 assts combined on 14-22 shooting tonight in taking apart a young, inexperienced Memphis team at the Jimmy V Classic. UM played hard for Josh Pastner, but the wunderkind could stand to learn a few things about program development from one of the best currently in the business, Bill Self.
- Utah State’s Tai Wesley. He’s a known commodity already, but we wanted to point out again that Wesley and his Aggies are a team to watch the rest of the season. USU only has two losses to BYU and Georgetown so far (both understandable), and the rock of a power forward Wesley is a big reason why. In tonight’s game against Long Beach State, he went for 16/14/6 assts and his season averages are 15/7 are bolstered by a highly efficient 65% shooting from the field. According to Pomeroy, Utah State will be favored in every one of the rest of its games this year, so remember that when you wake up in early March and realize USU is 27-3 heading into the postseason.
- Dick Vitale. Say what you want about his non sequiturs and inane commentary, the guy is still a tremendous ambassador of the game and he gets even more juiced up than usual to pitch for the V Foundation this time of year. You can tell from the stories behind his eyes that Vitale truly believes that he’s doing a greater good by pushing for cancer research, and we’re reminded of the reasons we loved the dude in the first place — his genuineness.
- Vander Blue. A lot was expected from the stud Marquette freshman guard, and in his ninth game of the season tonight against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, he delivered on some of that promise. He had an all-around game of 21 points (9-13 FG), five rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks as the Golden Eagles rolled. With a little seasoning, it’s already clear that Blue could become the next in a long line of great Marquette guards.
- Andrew Nicholson. Big ups for a guy who hits consecutive game winners at this level, as the junior St. Bonaventure forward nailed a shot with 5.2 seconds remaining to give his team the win over St. John’s merely three days after hitting another one with 6.8 seconds against Buffalo. Veteran A-10 observers knew this already, but the physics major is no flash in the pan. The all-A10 forward is averaging career highs of 19/10 as he hopes to carry St. Bonnie into the upper half of the league this year.
… and Misses.
- The Remarkable Ascent of Casey Mitchell. It appears to be over. For the second consecutive game, the senior who had exploded from last year’s 3.7 PPG to nearly 25 PPG this season had a rough shooting night. He followed up a 5-15 performance against Miami on Saturday with a 2-7 outing tonight against Robert Morris, resulting in a season-low six points. His overall season numbers are still phenomenal (19.8 PPG on 51% shooting), all things considered, but he couldn’t have possibly been expected to keep it up.
- All the Talk of Josh Selby. We get it. He’s a great blue-chipper and Kansas will add him to the roster in a little over a week. But he didn’t play tonight, and in fact, he wasn’t even on the bench because he can’t yet travel with the team until his NCAA penalty expires. So why did every national columnist feel the need to discuss how KU will react to Selby’s addition tonight? We’re not sure, and the answer is that nobody knows how Kansas will respond any more than anyone knew how Harrison Barnes would play at UNC in his first month of the season. Not even Bill Self really knows, and he sees the guy play every day.
- St. John’s. If UCLA fans weren’t already so distraught, somewhere they’d be chuckling. The new and improved St. John’s headed by Steve Lavin lost on the final possession to an Andrew Nicholson shot with five seconds remaining. The primary reason? The Red Storm went 10-20 from the line tonight. In a Big East that’s certain to have eight teams in the middle vying for half as many NCAA Tournament spots this year, a loss here is more than likely one the Johnnies will wish they had back.