Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pitt and Nova, OK, but Seton Hall? Come on Cuse!

(photo courtesy of

Basketball is a game of runs and streaks, both in-game and in-season. This year, the Syracuse Orange have epitomized that age-old axiom.

The Orange started the season on an 18-game winning streak, which came to a screeching halt after Pittsburgh opened the first half on a 19-0 run last Monday. Syracuse responded with 17 unanswered points of their own but never led against the Panthers in their first loss of the season.

That early scoring run was the end of Syracuse's winning streak and also the end of their confident play and offensive chemistry. They have since lost two conference games at home to Villanova, a top-10 team, and unranked Seton Hall. Talk about streaky.

They didn't just lose to the Pirates either; they were embarrassed. Seton Hall started the game on a 10-2 run and took a 13-point lead into halftime. Most people watching surely expected Syracuse to climb back in the second half, but Seton Hall scored the first seven points to extend their lead to 20 and the Orange didn't score until four-and-a-half minutes in.

Pirates star Jeremy Hazell was awesome, tying his season-high with 28 points and adding 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Seton Hall is now 2-3 since his return from a wrist injury, but they still aren't widely considered to be a contender for the NCAA tournament. A victory like this will change that, however.

There's a lot of blame that can be tossed around for Syracuse's losing streak, but a lot of it ultimately falls on Scoop Jardine. Anybody who watches this team consistently know he's prone to turnovers (2.9 per game) but he makes up for it by creating offense for himself and others. The Orange don't have anybody else that can break you down one-on-one, so the responsibility of creating offense falls directly on Jardine's shoulders.

During their three-game losing streak, Jardine has not played at his usual level. He has averaged just 8.3 points per game on 9-for-31 shooting, almost five points below his season average, and has just 9 assists compared to 7 turnovers. Coincidentally, Syracuse is shooting poorly, averaging over five points per game less on offense and creating extra fast-break opportunities for their opponents with long rebounds and turnovers.

Normally I would say that Saturday's game at Marquette would a great time for this team to regroup and prepare for next Wednesday's game against Connecticut and surefire top-five NBA draft pick Kemba Walker. But if I had written on this team after the Villanova game, I would've said the same thing about playing Seton Hall. And Marquette is actually over .500.

Jim Boeheim said earlier in the season that this team was not as good as their ranking and wasn't a top-10 basketball team; I agreed. But after 18 straight wins, even I was starting to believe that this team was jelling into an Elite Eight or even a Final Four contender. However, Kris Joseph missing the Pittsburgh game has seemingly destroyed this team's rhythm and after last night's loss, they may fall out of the top 15.

For this team to succeed offensively (and keep their opponents in half-court sets on the other end), they will need to be more efficient. And considering Syracuse doesn't have a go-to scorer (sorry Kris Joseph) or a knock-down outside shooter, the onus will fall on Jardine to penetrate and create offense for everybody else. Does this team miss Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins or what?

This team will only go as far as he can take them and as much as I like Jardine, he's an above-average college point guard at best. Which seems to make Syracuse nothing more than an above-average basketball team at this point in the season.

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