ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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ACC Stock Watch: Week Three

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2014

After two weeks of some mediocre non-conference competition along with some enlightening Feast Week match-ups, the conference found itself in familiar territory battling its peers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The games featured there, along with the few that preceded it, continue to shine a light on the teams and players in the conference who are rising, falling, or simply standing still. Here’s the third weekly edition of our ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. No one had a better week than the Blue Devils’ freshman point guard. After a sizzling 16 points and 10 assists in a win over Army earlier this week, Jones put the team on his back to help Duke defeat the nation’s fourth-ranked team on the road. His 22 points helped to offset an average game from the more-ballyhooed Jahlil Okafor, who posted 13 points while battling underneath with the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky all night. More impressive than his numbers was his poise down the stretch and how efficiently he ran the Duke offense all night long. The first true road test was little test at all for this standout freshman.
  • Wayne Blackshear, Louisville. Terry Rozier hit the big shots at the end of the game in the Cardinals’ win over Ohio State on Tuesday night, but it was Blackshear’s breakout performance that made the biggest impact. Long a player with high upside but inconsistent production, Blackshear’s all-around game against the Buckeyes (22 points, 4-of-8 from three, six rebounds) was the kind of contribution that Rick Pitino and Louisville has been waiting for from the senior.
Wayne Blackshear's big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville (USAToday Sports)

Wayne Blackshear’s big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville fans (USAToday Sports)

  • Duke. What can really be said about the scariest team in the country not located in Lexington? Duke went into a very difficult road environment in Madison, Wisconsin, and merely shot 65 percent from the field and used its talented freshmen trio to overcome the veteran stars of the Badgers. They’re as efficient an offensive team as there is in college basketball right now.
  • Miami. While the buzzer-beater win over Florida has now lost some of its luster, the Hurricanes just keep on winning. After dispatching an overmatched South Alabama team, Miami held Illinois (a team averaging 90 points per game coming in) to only 61 in its win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transfers are everything Jim Larranaga could have hoped they’d be, and holders Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri are flourishing in complementary roles.

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ACC Preview: Syracuse’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 14th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page located here.

Can Jim Boeheim recreate last year’s magic with another freshman point guard?

Only two ACC teams in history have ever started a season better than 25-0, soo Syracuse joined the record books with its impossible start last season. But the Orange quickly crashed back to earth in February and March, going 3-6 down the stretch after picking up their first loss at home to a bad Boston College team. The finish would have been disappointing no matter the start, but the 25-game winning streak blew everyone’s expectations way out of proportion. A lot went right to get to 25-0; most importantly, Tyler Ennis was ready to take the reins from day one and improve where Michael Carter-Williams left off.

Jim Boeheim has more questions than answers heading into this season (US Presswire).

Jim Boeheim has more questions than answers heading into this season (US Presswire).

It might have been the perfect start that gave Ennis the chance to be one-and-done instead of staying two or even three years. He got reams of national coverage and his draft stock rose with each win as Carter-Williams flourished in the NBA. His good fortune leaves Boeheim in a familiar but risky situation, though, needing to start again from scratch with freshman Kaleb Joseph asked to handle the point guard duties. Last year’s frontcourt stars Jerami Grant and CJ Fair also left for the NBA, but those losses will be countered, at least partially, by consensus top-25 recruit Chris McCullough. McCullough and Rakeem Christmas will comprise a solid ACC frontcourt, and even though it’s hard to know how quickly McCullough will learn the defensive schemes, his reputation as a transition scorer along with Syracuse’s general lack of frontcourt depth means he’ll play right away. Dajuan Coleman would be a huge asset this season, but he’s still recovering from knee surgery. If Coleman can’t go, Christmas has to learn to cut down on his fouls because Boeheim will need him to play 30 minutes per game. Sophomore Tyler Roberson will also see some time, but his offense leaves much to be desired.

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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ACC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 20th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Baltimore Sun: Jay Williams made a comment about how Maryland was playing “a little bit tight” and wondered if it had to do with Mark Turgeon‘s willingness to bench players who make mistakes. It’s an interesting thought. Certainly benching players means those players can’t produce, and if benching or coaching tirades are too frequent, I think they could affect a player’s confidence. But I doubt that’s a frequent problem. Now, micromanaging games from the sideline — that is a problem.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Travis McKie‘s production is down a lot this season. A smart man once told me something that makes lots of sense. McKie thrived at the four. Now, forced to play the three, he’s struggling (at least in comparison to his superb sophomore campaign). Maybe it’s because of his defenders’ quickness. Maybe it’s because he is now forced to play farther from the basket. I don’t think Codi Miller-McIntyre’s offensive surge is part of the problem because McKie has always played with a high usage guard in CJ Harris (a very different player, but still), but the Demon Deacons need him to really come into his own to get over the next proverbial hump.
  3. Hampton Roads Pilot: Malcolm Brogdon has quietly been Virginia’s most used player (ignoring Mike Tobey, who plays fewer than 20 minutes a game) — more than Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. In addition to being the team’s top scorer in ACC play, Brogdon is the team’s second leading rebounder. His range still needs some work, but Virginia is a lot more dangerous as a team with multiple “go-to” guys beyond just Harris. They also need to finish near the top of the conference rankings in order to make the Big Dance. The Florida State sweep will look good, but a home win against Syracuse in the penultimate game would do wonders.
  4. Chapelboro.com: Roy Williams is playing around a bit with lineups to try to keep his team fresh during games. Williams has always been one to use a large rotation, so that’s not surprising. Perhaps more surprising is that Coach K appears to be making his rotation deeper, playing 10 guys for decent minutes in Duke’s last couple of games. Over the last five games, the two ACC teams most set in their rotations were Boston College (34% played by its main rotation) and Syracuse (39.9% played by its starters). Remarkably Syracuse’s second most popular rotation played 32.1% of minutes (more than any team but the Eagles). In contrast Duke (10.9%) and Maryland (9.9%) changed rotations frequently. All data here courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas has improved dramatically on the offensive end during his time at Syracuse. He’s shooting a ridiculous 73.6 percent from the floor (thanks in large part to lots of dunks and put-backs), but he’s also become a serviceable player in the post. Not that you would make him the center of Syracuse’s offense or start up the Dream comparisons, but he’s no longer a player who can be completely ignored on offense. And that’s one reason Syracuse’s offense has made such a big step forward this season.
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Syracuse 59, #22 Pittsburgh 54

Posted by mpatton on January 18th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Pittsburgh is worthy of a higher ranking. With no great non-conference wins and that horribly slow loss to Cincinnati, there was good reason to question whether the Panthers deserved their advanced statistical love. But they played Syracuse even on the road, even owning a lead in the final three minutes. But even more impressive was that the Panthers took the lead after trailing by double figures in the second half. It’s not a secret at this point: Lamar Patterson is a special player and may be frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year if he keeps up the pace.

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse's victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse’s victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

  2. Syracuse isn’t going undefeated in the ACC. The Orange might be perfect at home when it’s all said and done, but their late game rebounding is a huge concern. Pittsburgh missed a lot of foul shots and layups, and still almost won the game at the Carrier Dome. Someone will get hot from beyond the arc and torch Syracuse on the offensive glass. Even more importantly, the Orange only played seven players, and every starter logged more than 29 minutes. Jerami Grant, CJ Fair and Tyler Ennis each played the entire 40 minutes, which could cause problems if the Orange get in foul trouble.
  3. Syracuse’s interior length bothered Pittsburgh on offense. Part of the problem is that the Panthers’ front line doesn’t have a lot of height. But multiple times Pittsburgh ended up having to force a jumper late in the shot clock because a guard was met by Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita in the paint. That said, Talib Zanna had a couple of really good offensive possessions operating near the elbow, and finished with an efficient double-double.

Star of the Game: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse. Ennis scored six of Syracuse’s last eight points to close the game, including the big shot to retake the lead. He finished with 16 points (a team high) on eight shots with three assists and one turnover in just shy of 40 minutes. Jim Boeheim made it clear after the game that they opened the floor (keeping CJ Fair and Trevor Cooney on the wing) to let Ennis work. That’s a lot of responsibility for a freshman, but you never felt like Ennis was rattled. Even when Pittsburgh deflected his pass late in the second half, he stayed calm and got it back.

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ACC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 17th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Testudo Times: Here’s a great film review of Roddy Peters in his recent game against Boston College. The in-depth look certainly supports my hypothesis that Peters has loads of potential on the offensive end. The play I found most interesting was the one where he picked apart the Eagles’ defense. It’s also rather alarming how easily the Eagles were picked apart by a freshman point guard, but that’s a post for another time. While he’s still not a shooter, Peters’ ability to get in the lane and find the open man is one that’s tough to teach. When he and Jake Layman develop more chemistry over time, they will be nearly impossible to stop.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: One big advantage Syracuse has over most opponents is on its front line, but you wouldn’t necessarily notice it from the stat sheet. Jim Boeheim wants to change that perception, though, by forcing the ball inside more. And he’s right if you look at Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman‘s numbers. The duo are hitting 72 and 68 percent of their field goals, respectively. Both are mostly scoring in the paint (through dunks and layups), but even if those numbers drop with increased possessions, that’s still a great pair of offensive options for the Orange.
  3. Boston Herald: Dennis Clifford received yet another setback in his potential return, which may end up forcing him to redshirt. He was originally scheduled to be back in action by now, but a source told Tom Layman that Steve Donahue is hoping to have Clifford back when conference play resumes the first week of January. Clifford has been dealing with nagging knee injuries since coming to Chestnut Hill, most recently trying to reduce the pain from arthritis in both knees. If he comes back the Eagles will be a much better team, as his shot-blocking will help to shore up the team’s interior defense. But at this point (and with this record), Donahue may be thinking about redshirting Clifford anyway and giving him the whole season to get back to 100 percent.
  4. Cardiac Hill: Stephen Gertz asks if Pittsburgh is better off without Steven Adams in the lineup. I’ll go ahead and posit no. Adams was the team’s most efficient rebounder (though Talib Zanna has stepped up significantly in defensive rebounding in his absence), most efficient shooter (albeit from close range), and an elite shot-blocker (an area Pittsburgh could decidedly use improvement). Also based on the success Adams has had in the NBA, I think he’s a much better basketball player this year than he was last season.
  5. WTVD: This story is head-scratching, but Will Graves – who was allegedly kicked off the 2011 North Carolina team for drugs — was recently cited for marijuana possession after consenting to let police search the house he rented from Roy Williams to finish his degree. First things first, major props to Williams for following through with Graves (who also worked part time for the Tar Heels as a video coordinator) and helping him finish his degree. But it’s not a good look for Graves.
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ACC Team Preview: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 23rd, 2013

The Syracuse Orange had a great season last year, largely overachieving on their way to a 30-10 record and a Final Four appearance. After struggling to an 11-7 conference record in the swan song for the mighty Big East Conference, they rode a wave of momentum behind their tenacious zone defense all the way to Atlanta where they fell to Michigan. Much of their overall success was due to senior leaders Brandon Triche and sixth man extraordinaire James Southerland. Losing these two seniors and play-making savant Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA Draft lottery removed much of the nucleus head coach Jim Boeheim relied upon in the 2012-13 season. However, Syracuse does return arguably the team’s most valuable and versatile player in C.J. Fair, who led the team in points and rebounds per game from the forward slot. Much of the team’s success this year will rely on Syracuse’s patented zone defense and Fair’s ability to shoulder an even larger offensive role without Southerland, Carter-Williams and Triche around to help shoulder the burden. There certainly will be a nice “shock factor” present in unleashing their vaunted defense against the rest of the new ACC this season that will have Boeheim cushioning his already exorbitant wins total.

syracuse-preview-2013

Returnees

  • Senior forward C.J. Fair: Widely considered one of the best players in the ACC. Should be in a compelling year-long battle for ACC Player of the Year with Virginia’s Joe Harris and Duke’s Jabari Parker. A second team all-Big East performer last season, Fair is a versatile and athletic leader for this Syracuse team. Big things are expected from the Baltimore native in a transition year for Syracuse athletics to the ACC.
  • Sophomore forward Jerami Grant: The 6’8” DeMatha alumnus is pegged by many analysts to have a breakout season. While he did not have a successful freshman season, he is a future project based on his rangy and lanky body type and the athleticism he has exhibited. He certainly has successful basketball genes in his family, seeing as his brother Jerian is a senior point guard star at rival Notre Dame and his father Harvey had a successful NBA career with multiple teams.
  • Redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Cooney: This redshirt two-guard sure has no trouble scoring the basketball. He is a prolific shooter but needs to improve other facets of his game to secure his spot in Syracuse’s starting lineup. The Delaware native has two years of practice with Boeheim under his belt which should help his knowledge of the 2-3 zone and offensive schemes.

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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Syracuse Orange

Posted by BHayes on August 28th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

In many ways, the 2013-14 season looks to be business as usual at Syracuse. The roster is deep and talented, expectations are sky-high, and Jim Boeheim is manning the sidelines for the Orange. But you can rest assured that there will have never been a Syracuse basketball season like this one. The day is finally here – the Orange, charter members of the Big East conference, are now officially ACC constituents. Heading south with them are former Big East brethren Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. The addition of these three formidable basketball programs makes the ACC, at least on paper, the toughest hoops conference in the land.

Jim Boeheim And CJ Fair Are Looking Forward To Syracuse's First Year In The ACC

Jim Boeheim And C.J. Fair Are Looking Forward To Syracuse’s First Year In the ACC

  • Team Outlook: Duke will undoubtedly be eager to remind the newbies that the ACC is its conference to rule, but Syracuse should be as poised as any foe to upend the Blue Devils. The Orange frontcourt is loaded, with junior and all-Big East second teamer C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) leading the charge. Surrounding Fair up front is a trio of high-upside sophomores. Rakeem Christmas (5.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG), DaJuan Coleman (4.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG), and Jerami Grant (3.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) are all expected to see an uptick in production in year two, but of the three, it is Grant who has the best chance to quickly transform himself from role player into star. Junior Baye Keita (8.6 block percentage) will also see minutes up front, while Duke transfer Michael Gbinije and freshman B.J. Johnson will battle to find time in this crowded frontcourt. Not surprisingly, given the remarkable depth up front, the question marks for Jim Boeheim and the Orange all appear in the backcourt. Gone are Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, leaving Trevor Cooney as the sole backcourt returnee who saw any time a year ago. The sophomore is an engaged and capable defender, but will be expected to shoot the ball better from the outside this time around (he was just 27% from three as a freshman). He may also be tasked with handling some backup point guard duties, as there is no obvious reserve for presumptive starter Tyler Ennis. Ennis, a freshman from Ontario, California, may be the most important player on the Orange roster. With said deficit of ball-handlers, the consensus top-25 recruit will have the rock in his hands a whole lot, and what he does with it will go a long ways towards determining the fate of this Syracuse season. With all the talent around him he does not need to be nearly as dynamic as MCW was a year ago, but with few other options around, he most certainly has to play a solid floor game for the Orange to begin to tap their full potential. Read the rest of this entry »
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Season In Review: Syracuse Orange

Posted by mlemaire on May 16th, 2013

The 2012-13 college basketball season for the Syracuse Orange was nothing if not entertaining to watch and follow. Hopes were high after the team rattled off 18 wins in its first 19 games including a gutty road win over then-No.1 Louisville. The optimism faded quickly as off-the-court issues sprung up again, the team lost seven of its final 12 regular season games, and some began to wonder whether the Orange had quit. Of course the Orange made those people look foolish in the Big East Tournament by reaching the title game and then made the doubters really eat crow by cruising with relative ease all the way to the Final Four before losing to Michigan. The team heads for the ACC next season and coach Jim Boeheim’s future remains murky, but for now, Orange fans have reason to walk a little taller these days.

Preseason Expectations

Everyone agreed that the Orange were at least a half-class below Louisville in the preseason conference pecking order, especially considering they had lost three of their four leading scorers from a year ago and one of the conference’s best defenders in big man Fab Melo. Despite all of that, expectations were still high for the Orange who had plenty of talent to fill the holes and now had a year of college basketball experience. Both the coaches and our microsite picked the Orange to finish second in the conference and while the regular season didn’t shake out that way, the NCAA Tournament vindicated our predictions.

Michael Carter-Williams Was The Big Reason Syracuse Was So Good.

Michael Carter-Williams Was The Big Reason Syracuse Was So Good.

The Good

Even if you didn’t watch any Syracuse basketball you could still say that Syracuse’s defense was excellent and feel good about your chances of being right. Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense has become famous, but this year’s team was particularly well-suited for it. There may not have been a longer and more athletic team in the country than Syracuse and opponents did not enjoy trying to score against that zone, just ask Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen or Marquette in the Elite Eight. The Orange’s team defense is the reason the team made it all the way to the Final Four. If you are one who likes to nitpick, you could point out that Michael Carter-Williams turned the ball over too much and has a long way to go before he becomes a shooting threat. That still won’t change the fact that MCW (11.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 39.9% FG) was one of the best players in the entire country and a big reason why Syracuse was so successful this year. He was a difference-maker on both ends of the floor and in every facet of the game and opponents should be glad he has moved on to the NBA. Efficient senior seasons from Brandon Triche and James Southerland helped the Orange get over the rough stretches of the season and junior C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 47.0% FG) came into his own this season, especially in the NCAA Tournament when he was a two-way monster for the Orange.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 21st, 2013

After starting the season 18-1, Syracuse looked to be poised for another run at a Big East title and a top seed in March. However, the Orange struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing seven of their last 12 contests in Big East play. With their hot early start and a few big wins — including one at then top-ranked Louisville — the NCAA Tournament was never really in question, but their seeding looked to be in real jeopardy as the losses piled up. Jim Boeheim was able to right the ship in his last Big East Tournament, and with wins over Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown before a tough championship game loss to Louisville, Syracuse seems to have regained a lot of momentum heading into the Big Dance.

syracuse-arkansas

Has Syracuse Regained Its Midseason Momentum; Or Is This a Mirage?

Region: East
Seed: No. 4
Record: 26-9 (11-7 Big East)
Matchup: vs. Montana in San Jose

Key Player: Michael Carter-Williams is Syracuse’s most talented player, and C.J. Fair is certainly the most consistent player on the squad, but no individual may be more important to Syracuse’s Final Four aspirations than senior forward James Southerland. Southerland put on a clinic from long range in the Garden last week, hitting 19 of his 33 three-point attempts in Syracuse’s four games. When he is on, he’s as good a shooter as there is in the country, and his mere presence really spreads the floor for the Orange, opening things up for Carter-Williams to penetrate opposing defenses and Fair to get good looks on his dangerous mid-range jumpers.

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