Four Thoughts: Syracuse vs. Cincinnati EditionPosted by mlemaire on January 24th, 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 (in this case a belated) four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!
1. Syracuse showed its resiliency.
Last season the Orange got off to a blistering 18-0 start, but when they traveled to Pittsburgh and lost a hard-fought game, the wheels started to wobble. After losing to the Panthers, Syracuse then lost five of their next seven games, including a 22-point shellacking by Seton Hall at home. The team was eventually bounced in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, much to the disappointment of ‘Cuse fans who just a few weeks earlier had been thinking National Championship.
Last night, the Orange had a chance to head down a similar path. Two days earlier they had lost their first game of the season on the road to Notre Dame and now they were headed to “The Shoe” to take on a rugged Cincinnati team still smarting from their overtime loss to West Virginia on Saturday. If Syracuse lost, most would probably be willing to forgive them and brush the loss off as part of the pitfalls of playing two road games in three days.
But they didn’t lose, and even when the Bearcats took the lead early in the second half, Jim Boeheim‘s club didn’t panic, instead calmly engineering a mini-run in the middle of the second half to take the lead for good. Good teams find ways to win ugly, and Syracuse played ugly basketball, especially at the start of both halves. But they withstood those barrages, calmed down, and overcame their shooting deficiencies to beat a strong conference foe on the road, proving they are still a national title contender in the process.
2. Hello Rakeem Christmas, it’s nice to finally meet you.
No one expected Christmas — a four-star prospect coming out of high school — to average a double-double out of the gate, but it’s fair to say that ‘Cuse fans were hoping for more than 3.5 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game out of the ultra-gifted forward. But, for whatever reason, Boeheim hasn’t trusted Christmas yet this season. He has started every game this season but — much like Fab Melo last year — Christmas would get yanked quickly and is still averaging less than 13 minutes per game. The quick hook led some to believe that Boeheim was messing with Christmas’ confidence.
But yesterday Boeheim had no choice. Melo was still suspended because of academic issues and Cincinnati is not necessarily bigger than Notre Dame, but they are much more physical inside, so Boeheim let Christmas play 27 minutes — the most he has played all season — and the freshman responded with his best game as a collegian. He may have only taken two shots and scored four points but his season-high nine rebounds (including four offensive rebounds) and three blocks helped the Orange force Cincinnati to shoot 34.4% from the field.
If Melo can make it back for the weekend as the school is hoping, then Christmas will probably see his minutes cut in half again, but hopefully for Boeheim, this game gave him enough confidence to think that he can be a legitimate contributor on this deep and talented team.
3. Cincinnati blew a golden opportunity to take themselves off the bubble.
For all of the praise that Syracuse deserves for finding a way to win ugly, the Bearcats have to be wondering what could have been on a day when the best team in their conference didn’t bring their A-game into Cincinnati’s home arena, yet still left with a win. The Orange couldn’t hit anything from behind the arc for most of the game and second-leading scorer Dion Waiters spent more time getting chewed out by Boeheim than he did on the floor making shots.
If Mick Cronin and his squad had found a way to win that game, they would have not only put themselves in excellent position to chase the conference title, but they also would have made a case to be taken off the bubble and be put squarely in the tournament field. Instead they shot just 34.4% from the field, clanked more than two-thirds of their three-point attempts, and turned the ball over 11 times.
What should be even more frustrating is that the Bearcats played really well to start both halves. They led 15-6 early in the first half before going cold and letting Syracuse creep back in and led by four early in the second half before going cold again and letting Syracuse race past them. There is no doubt that ‘Cuse deserves credit for hanging tough and coming back, but the Bearcats had a few chances to deliver knockout blows and should be frustrated that they couldn’t finish it off.
4. Despite their inconsistencies, Cincinnati’s remaining schedule means they will be a tournament team.
The Bearcats have 10 games left to prove they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid and while wins over DePaul, Providence, South Florida, St. John’s, and Rutgers won’t be worthy victories, if they can win the games they will be favored in, the Bearcats should be a tournament team. Just glancing at their remaining schedule, the most difficult games look like their two games against Marquette, a home matchup with an offensively challenged Louisville team, and a trip to everything-challenged Villanova team they have already beat.
Even if they lose all four of those games, as long as they take care of business against the six other, lesser opponents, that will give Cronin and his team 21 wins (11 in the conference), which will undoubtedly be enough to make the tournament. It’s time for that ole-fashioned cliche that says the only team that can prevent the Bearcats from reaching the tournament is themselves.
Their home win over Connecticut proved the kind of team that they can be when they are playing their best, but let’s not forget they also have home losses to Presbyterian and Marshall on their resume, so they can play down to their opponents’ levels. There is no doubt they are a better team than the bottom half of the conference, but they still have to play (and win) the games first.