Diary Of A Syracuse Fan And The Week From College Basketball Hell
As you know, the Syracuse/Georgetown basketball rivalry is one of the most intense, storied, and tradition hardened rivalries in all of college sports. It’s a rivalry that has defined Big East basketball since its inception in 1979, with Syracuse and Georgetown spearheading the league’s formation along with the seven Catholic schools.
Last weekend was the last meeting between the Orange and Hoyas at the Carrier Dome as members of the Big East, with Syracuse poised to move on to the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2013-2014 season. The game also broke the on-campus attendance record for a college basketball game, AND saw the retirement of Carmelo Anthony’s jersey from the rafters of the Carrier Dome.
Hundreds of fans, myself included, camped outside the Carrier Dome to watch the Orange defend their NCAA best 38-game home winning streak. We braved the snow, wind, and wet concrete ground just to witness the second biggest game in Syracuse basketball history. We waited in the Dome for 5 hours that day, spending our precious dollars on overpriced concessions, just so we’d have enough energy to do our part and rock the loud house.
An hour before game time, the atmosphere was electric as the student section stood like soldiers before a massive battle, proudly displaying their matching Orange headbands to honor the return of The Great One: Carmelo Anthony.
We jeered at the Georgetown fans who dared show their faces in front of the famed Otto’s Army, almost oblivious to the chinks in the armor of our team.
Almost. We all knew the Orange couldn’t rebound, we all knew they lacked a scorer who could create his own shot, and we all knew that Michael Carter-Williams probably isn’t the guy the pundits on SportsCenter say is an NBA lottery pick. We also knew that a dominant scorer who could break Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone could spell trouble for this team.
Looks like Otto Porter Jr. knew it too, and we all watched as our worst fears resulted in the Orange laying a complete and total egg.
46 points. Worst all-time in the Carrier Dome. And then began the week from college basketball hell.
The air was dead after the Georgetown loss, like the happiness of 35,012 people had been sucked up by a giant Otto Porter shaped vacuum. We were angry, upset, bruised, beaten, and pretty much pathetic. There would be no dancing in the streets on that night. We were bewildered.
The seasoned basketball fans among us were scratching our heads over the shot selection by the likes of James Southerland and Brandon Triche. Our sisters called us confused as to why C.J. Fair couldn’t buy a pass from a teammate, and even infant children that were born the day before couldn’t understand why Boeheim refused to switch to a Box-and-1.
The next day Syracuse plummeted from the 8th ranked team in the nation to 12th, taking our hopes for the season with them.
But, ever vigilant, fans of the Orange dragged themselves to the television to watch Syracuse rebound against 22nd ranked Marquette. We figured that the Otto Porter Jr. catastrophe would be an isolated incident, and that Marquette didn’t have a player capable of single-handedly shredding our vaunted defense.
Unfortunately, none of us could have known that Davante Gardner would be perfect from the field and score 26 points. This was the night when our faith in Jimmy B was shaken, holding by a thread.
“It’s ok, we have Louisville coming to the Dome on Saturday, we can still nab a great seed,” we said.
We were wrong.
Saturday, March 2nd was the day our faith in the Orange hung by a thread. It also marked the first time that I’d missed the opening tip of a home game as a student here. I should have known then, but I held on to a glimmer of hope. Since football season, we’d had the Cardinals’ number. We upset them in the Dome when they came in as an undefeated football squad, and we’d beaten them on their home court just as they had grabbed the top spot in the nation.
That game quickly fell into an all too familiar pattern. The Orange took a quick lead, gave it up, and ended up trailing in the last ten minutes of the game. We’d seen this too many times before, and all 32,000+ Syracuse fans held their breath, waiting for one last gasp.
And it happened. C.J. Fair rattled home an acrobatic layup, picked up the foul, and sunk the free throw to bring the Orange within 4. Like any loyal group of fans would in that moment, we exploded into a frenzy because we thought that THIS time would be different. I mean, this team was too good to drop three in a row, right?
But the Orange stuck to their script and let the Cardinals bury a corner three with 55 seconds to play. And just like Marquette, all Syracuse could do was foul and chuck up three-pointers.
Talk about a bad week. But now we have to ask what’s wrong with this team? The easy answer is scoring since the Orange have now scored less than 60 points in four of their past nine. So what’s wrong on offense?
The simple answer? Guard play.
Neither Michael Carter-Williams nor Brandon Triche can score efficiently, neither can penetrate well enough against defenses that collapse well, and neither of them can take care of the ball. Ironic as it may be, Jim Boeheim’s guards can’t beat a zone. Brandon Triche, who averages 14 points per game, is shooting 28.5 percent from behind the three-point arc. Not a good number for any shooting guard, let alone one representing a supposedly elite squad. Michael Carter-Williams shoots just as badly from behind the arc at 28.4 percent, but that can be forgiven since his position at point guard doesn’t necessitate knockdown shooting from deep. Instead, we have to look at Carter-Williams’s plain old field goal percentage. Would it surprise you to learn that Michael Carter-Williams is shooting 37 percent from the field? It should, considering he is a John R. Wooden Award finalist.
The Orange are also afflicted by unskilled big men in Baye Moussa Keita and Rakeem Christmas. Both are being outrebounded by 6’8” small forward, C.J. Fair, who leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per contest. Keita and Christmas average 3.7 and 5.0 rebounds a game, respectively. There is an argument that Keita (15 mpg) and Christmas (22mpg) don’t get as many minutes as Fair (34 mpg), leading to the discrepancy, but what does that really tell you? That neither Keita or Christmas, nor DaJaun Coleman has earned the right to be “the guy” in Jim Boeheim’s offensive game plan. Maybe Coleman’s return to the lineup will provide a solidified presence in the paint, but until then, the Orange have a big problem.
Right now, Syracuse can expect around a five seed in the NCAA tournament, quite the fall from grace after three straight losses during the week from Syracuse Basketball hell. However, the Orange aren’t done yet (we beat Depaul!). They still defend the paint very well, a skill that can take them deep into March if they take advantage of offensive opportunities, but I can’t envision anything better than the Elite Eight at this point.
But maybe I’m just a bruised Orange.