ATB: The Now-Vulnerable Joyce Center, Orange Brave Tough Stretch and The Big 12’s Murky Middle…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 22nd, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn. 

Tonight’s Lede. Top Teams Battle Quick Turnarounds. Basketball played at the highest levels, both professional and Division I, is an all-encompassing enterprise. Games are but a small fraction of the athlete experience. There’s a laundry list of team workouts, weight-lifting sessions, post-workout ice baths and rehab, nutrition management, sleep monitoring, all among other minutiae — all of which influences how a player feels when he’s out on the court. One of the toughest parts about playing in front of jam-packed stadiums and millions of eyeballs is that half of the time, you’re doing it away from the comfort of your own home/campus/stadium. Teams travel around the country to various arenas, sleeping in hotels and braving late-night flights. Even for non-athletes, that stuff wears on you. Imagine having to jump off a plane, get a half-night’s sleep, then wake up for a morning shootaround and play a game in a foreign place later that night. This is the reality these players face, and it’s even more daunting when games are stacked in close proximity, and more so when you’ve just ground out the biggest win of the season to date. To wit: Syracuse, fresh off Saturday’s toppling of No. 1 Louisville at the Yum! Center, faced a 3:30 PM ET tip with Cincinnati, one of the toughest, persistent, and most physical teams in the country. Getting up for a two-day whirlwind is difficult against any team. Against Cincinnati? It’s outright brutal. A few other big-name teams stared down similar time constraints, including one with a huge asterisk. I don’t want to give too much away. This is, after all, a lede.

Your Watercooler Moment. Orange D Wears Out Cincinnati.

A tough two-game stretch couldn't stop the surging Orange (photo credit: Getty Images).

A tough two-game stretch couldn’t stop the surging Orange (photo credit: Getty Images).

You couldn’t help looking at this match-up, and the two teams comprising it, and not come to the basic conclusion that this was a strength-on-strength battle. Both teams entered Monday touting defenses ranked in the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. Syracuse’s defense is slightly better, efficiency-wise, and the disparity – the Orange have allowed 0.84 points per trip thus far, compared to 0.86 for Cincinnati – and that disparity bore out on the court. It might not seem like much, but over anywhere between 65 to 75 possessions (give or take), it makes a difference. On Monday, that margin came in the form of Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone grinding and harassing and forcing star Bearcats guard Sean Kilpatrick into an inefficient 21 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Syracuse’s ability to stunt Cincinnati by zoning in on one or maybe two really talented guards is why there’s so much skepticism about the Bearcats as any sort of sustained threat at the top of the Big East. You know Mick Cronin’s team is going to defend. You know they’re going to play some of the most physical hoop in the country. But unless they can remake their offense to lessen the load on their esteemed guard trio (Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright), Cincinnati is going to run into teams it simply can’t put away. Defense is important, but it is also only half of the equation.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • More Big 12 Muck.  The glimmers of hope offered by Kansas’ shaky play in recent weeks — neck-and-neck home wins over Temple and Iowa State, an uninspiring effort at Texas Tech, a grind-it-out victory at Texas — are nothing to worry about. Presuming a safe passage through Bramlage Coliseum Tuesday night, the Jayhawks will win the the Big 12 going away. That’s because the rest of the league just isn’t very good. Oklahoma State lost again Monday night. Texas guards like crazy but can’t keep up with anyone on the offensive end. Baylor is as inconsistent as it is talented. And Oklahoma (who handled Texas on Monday night), for all its recent buzz at the Big 12 watercooler, hasn’t beaten anyone remotely good. The point is, however much you quibble with Kansas’ unflattering conference form, and however critical your reviews on the Jayhawks’ secondary offensive weapons — the idea, misguided perhaps, that Ben McLemore is the only thing Kansas has going for it on the offensive end — the fact of the matter is the Jayhawks have not lost in Big 12 play, and if they can get by the Sunflower State’s little brother on the road tomorrow night, it’ll be smooth sailing to another KU Big 12 crown. This is not new territory for Bill Self’s program.
  • Horizon League Update. The bright side of Butler’s sudden departure from the Horizon League is the renewed opportunity afforded other teams to realistically compete for the league championship. It was time for the Bulldogs to leave; they earned their conference upgrade and are making the most of their new spotlight in the Atlantic 10. The league the Bulldogs left behind is a lesser topic among the college hoops cognoscenti, but the Horizon race is really starting to pick up. First place Valparaiso held serve against Wright State Saturday, but the Raiders bounced back with a huge win at Detroit Monday night. From a confidence standpoint, that win was a pretty big deal for Wright State. It also brought the Raiders level with Valpo at the top of the standings. If rankings hold, and both teams avoid disaster in conference play, Wright State is in prime position to dislodge the Crusaders at home on February 12. Were Butler still here preying on inferior competition, none of this would matter all that much — it’s nice to see that it now does.

… and Miss. 

    • Joyce Center Not To Be Feared. If the UConn loss and three-point Rutgers escape were warning signs, Monday night’s loss to Georgetown was the moment of truth. Notre Dame needs to re-evaluate the way it approaches home games. For so long the Irish have fallen back on their indomitable home court advantage; top-ranked Big East opponents would shudder at the thought of entering the Joyce Center, and many times, those same opponents left South Bend with an impending downgrade in the next version of the polls. Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has been an absolute nuisance to face at home, and now, the Irish are totally vulnerable there. Two weeks ago, after upstaging the football team’s national championship night (kidding) with a win over Cincinnati, the Irish were easing their way through a 12-game winning streak, looking like the best team of Brey’s tenure. Then the bottom fell out: a home loss to UConn, followed by a road loss to Saint John’s, and a three-point survival of Rutgers. Monday night was the most alarming of them all. Georgetown didn’t just win at the Joyce Center. They flat-out dominated the once-unbeatable-at-home Irish.

Dunkdafied. If you’re a frequent reader of the ATB, you might recall my personal fascination with Michael Carter-Williams. And you might understand why my internet Dunkdafied search ended promptly upon seeing this clip.

Monday Night’s All-Americans.

  • Romero Osby, Oklahoma (NPOY) – Playing Texas is never fun. Osby had his way with the Longhorns’ smothering defense. He finished with 29 points and eight rebounds.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown – The Hoyas are brutal to watch offensively. Porter, who delivered 19 points and nine rebounds in Monday night’s win at Notre Dame, makes it a little easier.
  • Pierre Jackson, Baylor – Between Jackson, UMass’ Chaz Williams and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, I’m having some difficulty reaching a verdict on the nation’s quickest point guard. Jackson is the most offensively capable of the three, and he proved it by scoring 18 points in a victory against Oklahoma State.
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse – Two days after making all the big plays in a crucial late-game stretch against Louisville, we witnessed another vintage MCW performance:  16 points, seven assists.
  • Isaiah Austin, Baylor – Armed with a center’s frame and real guard skills, Austin’s potential is tantalizing. He dropped 10 points and grabbed 14 boards in the Bears’ win over OSU.

Tweet of the Night. I love mulling on interesting statistical nuggets like this. It is going to take a few more championships before Syracuse is spoken in the same breath as UCLA –- it may never get there -– but if you were to guess which team held the record for most winning seasons, and UCLA was already off the board, would Syracuse have been your obvious next best choice? Didn’t think so.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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