Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SU looks to build on West Virginia win

(photo courtesy of suathletics.com)

After losing three straight games at home and with a four-game losing streak not to distant in the rear-view mirror, Monday night marked a big game for the Orange against an unranked-but-talented West Virginia team. As good as West Virginia's resume may be, Syracuse is a better team and they needed to represent at the Carrier Dome. They did.

Brandon Triche scored 20 points for the second time this season and the second time in three days and has really come into his own of late. Triche has been this team's most improved player as the season has gone on and is really stepping into the role of team leader as just a sophomore.

Triche's resurgence has unfortunately coincided with the struggles of Scoop Jardine. If Syracuse could get both players going, they would have an extremely dangerous backcourt to go along with Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson up front. Then maybe I'd consider them an Elite 8 team but right now they're just a Sweet 16 contender, if that.

The removal of Fab Melo from the starting lineup has cut the Syracuse rotation to seven players, a good thing for this team. They may lack size with only Baye Moussa Keita (who saw just nine minutes last night) as a true big man outside of Rick Jackson but this team plays much better basketball when they go small, create turnovers and get out on the break.

ESPN made a big deal during their broadcast about Syracuse's lack of fast-break points in recent games leading to their struggles, but that all starts with defense. You can't run the break if you don't create turnovers and long rebounds and lately, the Orange have been doing neither.

But Monday was a different story as Syracuse had 13 steals, five from Jardine. Jardine played well with nine points, six assists and five rebounds despite still not being able to shoot straight, having just one game in his last 10 with a field-goal percentage above 50 percent and three above 40 percent.

Those 13 steals led to 19 points in transition, more than double their recent average. But Syracuse is still getting killed behind the three-point line, as the Mountaineers were 11-for-22 from beyond the arc despite just four points in the paint.

This tells me that the Orange defenders are quick to recover to the post and the middle of the court, but slow to recover to shooters outside the three-point line. On numerous occasions I've watched the Orange guard well for 30 seconds, struggle to recover to an open shooter late in the shot clock, have their hands down and allow a clean look for three. Those are demoralizing possessions.

For a team that struggles so much in their half-court set, they need to get out and run. No team can expect to record 13 steals per game so if the Orange want to continue to get out on the break, they will need to defend the outside shot better and create more long rebounds and transition opportunities.

Syracuse has two tough Big East games remaining, both on the road next Monday at Villanova and next Saturday at Georgetown. The Orange already lost to both teams at the Carrier dome and to win away from home, they will have to turn up the defense to create some offense.

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