Coaches vs. Cancer.
Addition by Subtraction? Syracuse 87, North Carolina 71. We all knew that Roy Williams’ Carolina team was likely to take a bit of a step back this season after losing four players (Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson, Green) to the NBA Draft, and we expected the same from Syracuse after losing the core (Flynn, Harris, Devendorf) of its Sweet Sixteen squad. But is it possible that Syracuse, with the addition of multi-dimensional forward Wesley Johnson and the natural progression of players such as Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine, are actually better than they were in 2008-09? Forget the loss to Le Moyne in the preseason — when the games have actually counted, they’ve mauled every opponent they’ve faced by an average of 27.5 pts. Albany and Robert Morris, sure — but highly-ranked California by 22 and North Carolina by 16? Not so much. As Roy Williams put it after the game, Syracuse “beat the dickens out of us,” and he wasn’t exaggerating. The Orange broke out of a 39-37 deficit at halftime with a ridiculous 22-1 run that had Carolina looking as befuddled as they’ve been in what seems like a long time (don’t let anyone tell you that it’s actually been that long, though – the 2008 Final Four game against Kansas looked similar for long stretches). The key to that stretch of play was that North Carolina all of a sudden looked much like the young, inexperienced team that they are. Williams made sure to stress that youth isn’t an excuse, but during the blitzkrieg by SU it was clear that many of the Heels were uncertain how to stem the tide, incapable at this point in their development of settling their nerves with several bad decisions on both ends of the court. At the end of the night, it was obvious that the better team (with the best player, Johnson) won the game. We have to be careful to crown anyone with anything this early in the season, but there’s no doubt that Syracuse is much further along than UNC, and we found ourselves wondering (along with Ray Floriani) if this year’s version of the Orange might actually be better off with the talented trio of Flynn, Harris and Devendorf out of the picture. Sometimes those players, particularly Harris and Devendorf, could cause more problems than they solved for Jim Boeheim. Is it possible that the group he has now — last year’s backups + Johnson (transfer) and Jardine (redshirt) — have better team chemistry and trust for each other, resulting in wonderfully efficient execution on both ends? Boeheim would never admit to it, but there could be something to this.
Can We Send Cal Home 0-3? Ohio State 76, California 70. Memo to Pac-10 teams. Don’t bother sending your schools back east unless they plan on actually showing up for the games. For the second consecutive night, Mike Montgomery’s California team got completely outclassed by a bigger, more athletic foe that simply imposed its will on the Bears in the first half, rendering the second stanza as (mostly) garbage time. Ohio State was much better tonight than they were last night, hitting five threes in the first half over the much shorter Bears, and generally controlling the game from start to finish. Dallas Lauderdale in particular tortured the Cal interior players, getting credited for seven blocks and generally intimidating any Cal player of consequence who entered his lane. Evan Turner was masterful as usual, notching another near-triple double of 26/14/6 assts on 9-14 FG. More importantly for Thad Matta, Turner cut down his turnover total to a more reasonable (yet high) four, quite a few less than his ten last evening against UNC. Jerome Randle was once again the only bright spot for Cal, as he dropped 26/3 assts in what was clearly a frustrating couple of games for the competitive guard. The loss of Theo Robertson for these last two games with a stress reaction was undoubtedly a tough blow, but we’re not convinced that Cal would have beaten either Syracuse or Ohio State even with Jason Kidd back on campus. Their problems with the interior players are just too damning, and there doesn’t appear to be any easy solution. So what have we learned from this? First, if Cal is indeed the best team in the Pac-10, then there won’t be a single Pac-10 team beyond the second round in March (again), and secondly, if there’s a better player than Ohio State’s Evan Turner (22/15/6 assts), he’d better start putting up some ridiculous games soon or the NPOY race will be over before it gets started.