Syracuse Survives. #3 Syracuse 72, Connecticut 67. Widely considered the undercard for another rivalry game later in the evening, this one was utterly predictable for about the first 28 minutes. Isn’t this close to the pattern you assumed, as well? Connecticut would keep it close for a half, a Syracuse run somewhere in the middle of the second half would put it away, and the announcers would lament for the duration about UConn’s disappointing season and the effects of the loss of Jim Calhoun while the home viewers got their refreshments ready for Duke/North Carolina. Sound about right? Connecticut played their role perfectly until there were 14 minutes left, the score 50-34. The Huskies got themselves back in it with a fantastic 17-4 run over a six-minute period, and Jerome Dyson (19/8/5/2 stls) completed the comeback with a three-pointer to tie it at 65 with 2:38 remaining. You’ll hear a lot about a controversial time-out that was credited to Syracuse at this juncture, and who knows. Eyes belonging to supporters of each team will see it differently, but it’s our stance that it wouldn’t have mattered in the end. Connecticut still had a Dyson three in the air to take the lead with 22 seconds left at 67-65, but it was Kris Joseph (14/6/2 stls) who pulled down the rebound and managed to hit his next four free throws to help the Orange finish it. The big questions from this game: is Syracuse one of the top four teams in the nation (i.e., deserving of a one-seed)? Did Connecticut show themselves to be one of the top 64? As concerns the Orange, the answer is yes, and their status as a presumptive #1 seed is not news. That probably wouldn’t have changed even with a loss. As far as Connecticut goes, it’s more an issue of a golden chance squandered. They have seven games left and stand at 14-10 and 4-7. This would have been the ultimate signature win, and it would have come on a night when other bubble teams around the country also hurt their own causes. As it stands, just to get to .500 in the conference race, UConn has to go 5-2 over a stretch that includes four road games — and they haven’t won on the road all year (0-6). And that would only have them at 19-10 and 9-9 going into the Big East Tournament. They have one more chance for a win that would give the NCAA committee something to think about: this Monday at Villanova. Lose that one, and it’s Big East Tournament or bust.
Carolina is Cooked. #7 Duke 64, North Carolina 54. This game had little of its usual luster given the troubles that Roy Williams’ Tar Heels have endured in recent weeks. UNC came into this game having lost three in a row, and six of seven, and the conventional wisdom surrounding this game was that Carolina needed to win both Duke games (and a whole bunch in-between) in order to have enough of a resume to make the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year. Didn’t happen, and wasn’t ever going to happen. Sure, the game was close for 34 minutes of action, but eventually the better team started making their shots, and as soon as that happened it was lights-out for the home team tonight. Jon Scheyer led the Dookies with 24/5/4 assts and Kyle Singler added 19/9, but the game was an ugly affair, as both teams shot the ball in the low- to mid-30s in terms of percentage. The difference was marginal, as Duke did things just a little better than Carolina, whether it was rebounding (+11), taking care of the ball (-4 TOs) or hitting their long-range bombs (9 vs. 5). A few questions came to mind in this one as we once again watched UNC struggle to put up points. First, who decided that Larry Drew II (11/4/4 assts) is the go-to guy? LD2 chucked fifteen shots at the rim, making only four (and 1-8 from three), and often times it appeared that he really believed that the best available play was to call his own number. By the same token, how Ed Davis (4/5/6 blks) only gets four shot attempts (making two) is beyond comprehension. Drew in fact took more shots than his entire starting frontline of Davis and Deon Thompson (10/4 on 3-7 FGs), both of whom have more offensive abilities in their kneecaps than Drew does. It was reported today that Roy Williams made a horrible analogy comparing his team’s struggles this year to the disaster that killed nearly a quarter-million people in Haiti, but it seems that he may want to spend a little more time explaining to his players what a good shot actually looks like rather than making silly comparisons about what will likely be his first non-NCAA Tournament season in his coaching career (when eligible).
The Wacky A10. Dayton 75, Charlotte 47 Despite holding the A10 lead alone coming into this one, Charlotte was a popular pick to be the most likely team out of the top five in that conference to be left out of the NCAA Tournament, failing an Atlantic 10 Tournament title. They didn’t help their cause tonight. Rather, Dayton helped their own. Chris Wright just exploded for a career-high 30 points and fueled a 23-7 run over the first part of the second half for which the 49ers had no answer. Dayton was up by only three at the half, 30-27, but Wright had no intention of letting this one stay close, accounting for 15 of Dayton’s first 18 points of the second half with three three-pointers, two dunks, and a pair of free throws. All is not lost for Charlotte, who now stands in a three-way tie with Richmond and Xavier at 8-2 in the conference; there are four other teams (including Dayton) within a game and a half of those leaders in a conference race that’s going to be a thriller to the very last.