As I wrote last week, the Syracuse Orange has continued to win, but just barely. That trend, which us Orange die-hards hope would cease to continue, unfortunately has. Last night, Cuse dodged another upset minded team in North Carolina State, squeaking by the Wolfpack 65-59.
Again, it was a tale of two teams. Syracuse blitzed State early, behind a barrage of baskets by Scoop Jardine, dunks by Kris Joseph, and exceptional defense. They raced out to an early 12 point advantage before once again succumbing to the trait that Syracuse basketball teams have long fallen victim to: letting the other team right back into the game. The first ten minutes, they looked like one of the better teams in the country, yet by halftime, they were barely up four.
From what I saw, the defense wasn’t the problem. Scott Wood was nailing threes from near halfcourt to keep the Wolfpack in the game, and there’s just nothing a team can do about that. Syracuse turned to a full-court press once they fell behind by five midway through the second half, and within twenty seconds, had closed the gap to one on a pair of steals. They rotated well (especially Brandon Triche), and contested shots down low. Offensively, however, they looked like a supremely lost team.
Scoop Jardine kept the team in the game with 23 points, including an early barrage of three pointers, mid-range jumpers, and driving lay-ups. However, the rest of the team was stagnant. Kris Joseph settled almost completely for three point shots or long jumpers, save the two or three alley-oops he had. The low post game was non-existent, for reasons that baffle me. Brandon Triche was absolutely invisible on the offensive end. Even the reserves, Baya Moussa-Keita, C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters were of almost no help. There is no movement, no helping, no picks being set. The majority of last night was Scoop Jardine creating shots for himself, or passing away at the last second for a weak jumper.
With as much offensive talent as this team has, I don’t know what the problem is. Rick Jackson should be touching the ball almost every possesion, whether on the high post if they’re playing against a zone, or down on the block. The weight he lost during the off-season has kept him as strong as ever, but has also given him a new agility that few big men will be able to slow down. Kris Joseph should be rolling through screens and slashing to the hoop. And Brandon Triche simply needs to touch the ball more, whether it’s to create for his teammates or get to the basket, something he does as well as anybody on the team. None of this was evident during the game last night, and the Orange almost let another team that should have no business beating Syracuse do just that.
With Michigan State looming on Tuesday, I’ll readily admit that I’m nervous. They have by far the strongest and most athletic defense of any Syracuse has faced to date. There’s still a lot of season to be played, even before the Big East starts, but each game Syracuse plays again shows how much work is left to be done with this squad.
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Written by Curt Bell