Four Thoughts: Providence vs. Syracuse Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 16th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!

Council Overruled

It is rare that conference opponents would face each other twice by mid-January, but that was the case on Saturday when Providence and Syracuse met in the Carrier dome.  Syracuse won the first meeting by an 87-73 score that was not indicative of the overall play.  In one of the few challenges Syracuse has faced this year, Providence hung tough at home in a game where both teams played well.  Syracuse led by only two points at the half, and six with just over five minutes to go in the game before making a late run  to log the double-digit victory.  Despite that good home showing by the Friars, coupled with any momentum generated by their 31-point romp over #14 Louisville on Tuesday, Providence (justifiably) remained heavy underdogs on the road versus the #1 Orange.  Long odds became virtually impossible when it was learned publicly just an hour or so before Saturday night’s game that Providence’s best player and leading scorer, point guard Vincent Council (16.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.1 APG) would be held out of the game due unspecified coach’s decision.   Council was coming off a 15-point, 14-assist performance in the Louisville win and had 17 points and five assists in the first meeting with the Orange.  Not only is Council Providence’s leader, he is their only legitimate point guard averaging 37.7 minutes per game as a result.  In the court system that is Providence basketball, the judge, jury and probably even court stenographer is head coach Ed Cooley.  After the game, as reported in the Providence Journal, Cooley termed the reason for sitting Council an “accountability issue,” adding “it could be multiple games but it definitely is my decision.” Council’s suspension represented a bold move by first-year head coach Cooley, who is trying to change the culture of what was an undisciplined program under former coach Keno Davis.

Syracuse's Pressure was Too Much for the Council-less Friars (Photo by Frank Ordonez, The Post-Standard)

Under Pressure – The Turning Point

Despite Council’s absence Providence hung tough in the early stages on Saturday night, trailing by just one point (17-16) with just under six minutes left in the first half.  Then Jim Boeheim made the game-changing adjustment and put on a press. This move that triggered a 15-0 Orange run, and ultimately a 17 point halftime lead that the Orange would never come close to relinquishing.  The Orange pushed the lead to as many as 30 points in the second half before cruising to a 78-55 victory.  Not to nitpick but it is curious as to why Syracuse did not open the game with pressure.  They opened the game a bit sleepy, laying back on defense and taking quick shots on offense. Syracuse is not a pressing team by nature, but by playing it straight they gave an undermanned and overmatched Providence team a chance at a most improbable upset.  Further Providence was competitive at home versus Syracuse in the first match-up largely by slowing the pace as much as possible against an Orange team that excels at playing fast.  Council’s status was fluid leading up to the game so give Boeheim some slack. However once Council was ruled out, opening the game with pressure would have been justified. Without Council, Providence had no legitimate point guard and was left with only eight scholarship players.  So, with the Friars’ lack of ball handlers it was in Syracuse’s best interest to speed up the pace and take advantage of their dominant athleticism and depth.

Number One in the Rankings – Perhaps Not so Much in Sportsmanship

With just under 30 seconds left in Saturday night’s game and a 74-53 lead Syracuse rebounded a Providence miss.  The game was in hand and the shot clock turned off.  However rather than dribbling out the clock, the Orange continued the onslaught.  Rakeem Christmas scored with 17 seconds to go.  Then, following another empty trip by Providence and time now running out, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams hustled a long pass to a streaking Mookie Jones who, again rather than pulling up, dunked it home with under five seconds left in a blowout.  Syracuse’s game-breaking late first half run turned a good portion of the second half into garbage time.  This is an opportunity for players that normally do not play, or play much, to get extended minutes.  Everyone in those spots believes they should be playing more, so nobody can begrudge a player for going all out and trying to prove himself.  Same goes for a team with a big lead.  They should not be expected to stop scoring or even to slow down.  At a minimum that can lead to sloppiness and bad habits.  At worst, going at less than full speed can cause injury.  It’s on the other team to stop them. The one exception to all of this is when a team with firm control over a game has the ball and does not have to shoot before time expires.  One hundrede percent of the time in that situation they should let the clock expire.  Syracuse showed a lack of class by refusing to do so on not one, but two occasions.

Can Syracuse run the regular season table?

With Saturday night’s victory, Syracuse ran its record to 19-0, tying a school record for wins to open a season (1999-00 was the other).  First, the fact that 19-0 only ties the school record tells you all you need to know about the impressive machine Jim Boeheim has built. Second, get ready for the undefeated regular season talk.  Is it legitimate conversation?  Well, we have run this through numerous algorithms and statistical models and the scientific, quantitative answer is… yep!  

Clearly Syracuse represents the class of the Big East.  Surprisingly the Orange have separated themselves from the pack in a league that typically boasts at least a three or four team minefield at the top.  This lack of multiple heavyweights bodes well for the Orange.  Certainly the Big East is still good enough and deep enough to make any game an upset possibility, but it appears Syracuse’s remaining schedule is favorable.  Syracuse has yet to face most of its closest conference competitors. The good news is that the Orange will find a good number of them coming to visit the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome (West Virginia, Georgetown, Connecticut, Louisville).  There are three road games that stand out as possible problems for Syracuse, but just one, February 25 at Connecticut, really feels like a legitimate run-buster.   As for the other two with potential, Syracuse travels to Cincinnati, currently in second place at 4-1, on January 23 and to #23 Louisville (who Syracuse also plays at home as noted above) on February 13.  Cincinnati has righted the ship and gets after it defensively, which gives the Bearcats a chance at home. However they appear to lack the firepower necessary to pull off an upset of that magnitude.  Louisville also plays tough defense but they lack size and depth and appear to be a bad matchup with Syracuse. Connecticut looks like the only team that has the size, talent and depth to get it done. Further, the Huskies will actually get two cracks at the Orange as they also meet in Syracuse on February 11.

Patrick Prendergast (74 Posts)

Twitter: @FriarFrenzy

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