Posted on: January 25, 2011 9:47 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2011 10:28 pm

Shocker of the season in Syracuse

Posted by MATT JONES

I began suspecting that Syracuse was overrated early in the season. When the Orange became one of the four remaining undefeated teams, some crowned Jim Boeheim's club as a Final Four contender, but I refused to give in.

Yes, the 'Cuse had been in the house with early season wins over Michigan State, Michigan and Georgia Tech, but it had also barely squeaked by in wins over William and Mary and Iona. The undefeated record confirmed that this was a team with talent, but the mediocrity seen often on the court showcased that with no Wesley Johnson on the roster, a legitimate contender it was not.

This initial suspicion has been confirmed over the course of Syracuse's recent three-game losing streak, culminating on Tuesday in a 90-68 loss to Seton Hall in the Carrier Dome that is as shocking a result as we have seen this year in college basketball. Boeheim's team was whipped from the very beginning, falling down by as many as 20 in the first half and never making a run that could even cause Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard to sweat a drop in the second. From the opening tip, Syracuse was unable to put the ball in the basket, but even more shockingly, defended as poorly as any game I can remember in the Boeheim era.

What type of Jim Boeheim team allows an opponent as dreadful as Seton Hall (8-12 overall, 2-6 in the Big East going into the game) to come into the Carrier Dome and shoot 54 percent for the game and 58 percent from the three point line? This Seton Hall team came into the game ranked 293rd in America in field goal percentage, yet the Orange found a way to make them seem as if they were carrying a starting five of Rick Mount, Craig Ehlo, Craig Hodges, J.J. Redick and the college version of Chris Jackson. Anyone can lose a game, but to do so by making a cellar dweller in the Big East look like a Championship contender ... well that takes a special type of atrocious performance.

We have seen some upsets this year that were head-scratchers. Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching an Auburn game is baffled at how the Tigers upset Florida State. And for an Illinois-Chicago team that is 0-8 in the Horizon League to have upset Bruce Weber's Illinois team is also beyond perplexing. But for Seton Hall to take a Syracuse team that just 10 days ago was undefeated, and destroy them in such a thorough, embarassing way, well that is downright shocking.

Boeheim will surely have the Orange playing better before the season is over, but remember this game come March. No team that is a legitimate national player loses a game like this, in a manner this humiliating. Mark Jan. 25 as the date that the 'Cuse was officially eliminated from Final Four contender status.
Posted on: January 22, 2011 3:12 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2011 3:36 pm

This Villanova group is quite impressive

Maalik had his Wayns with Syracuse

Maalik Wayns (above) scored 21 points on 6 of 11 shooting to lead Villanova's 83-72 road upset of Syracuse.

Posted by Matt Jones

Every year around this time, I start looking for my "March Five", the group of teams that I select prior to the NCAA Tournament, from which I guarantee a national champion. Since 1995, my March Five has had a near-perfect record, with only Arizona in 1997 becoming champion outside of the group. Around this time of year, I rarely pick a team to definitely be in the final five selection, but I begin slotting my provisional picks and engage in the process of eliminating those teams that I know do not have the makeup to be part of the final group.

It is with that elimination mindset that I took a particular interest in today's Villanova-Syracuse game in the Big East. With both Syracuse and Villanova losing earlier battles this week against UCONN and Pittsburgh respectively, this game had "elimination" written all over it. If a team can't beat one of their fellow conference challengers in two tries in January, then how am I supposed to predict a six game run in March? 

I will freely admit that I went into the game assuming that Villanova would be my most likely candidate for elimination. When it comes to the March Five, I honestly have been anti-Villanova over the years, for one simple reason. While the Wildcats under Jay Wright have produced quality teams every season that almost always outperform their talent level, they usually have one glaring weakness (often in the post) that prevents them from navigating the various playing styles and matchups that are required to make a March run. No Villanova team has ever had the balance in my eyes to truly contend for the final prize and I suspected that after I watched the 2011 group in front of 33,000 orange-clad screaming New Yorkers, I would reach the same conclusion again.

Consider me pleasantly surprised. While most will focus on Villanova' tremendous outside shooting, which featured eight made threes and a 62% percentage behind the arc, that part of the Wildcats' performance didn't do it for me. I have watched a number of incarnations of Jay Wright's teams shoot lights out against great teams and pull off impressive road wins against programs such as Syracuse. However one-dimensional teams never make my March Five, and if all we saw was simply a group of Villanova perimeter players hitting from deep, the Wildcats would once again remain outside my list of potential contenders.

Instead, what made Villanova's 83-72 win worth noting was the play of Villanova's previously invisible front line. Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton combined for 25 points, 16 rebounds and most importantly, showcased themselves to be legitimate scoring options worthy of attention. Syracuse saw its zone attached aggressively, was occasionally forced to double the post and Villanova shooters were able to get open looks with ease, dismantling the vaunted Orange defense in the process. The inside threat lead to a completely new wrinkle to Villanova basketball and caught Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse team completely off guard.

As I move ever closer to taking Syracuse off my list of possible members of the March Five (I will give the Orange the opportunity to salvage their membership with the pair of road games at Marquette and Connecticut in two weeks), it is time for me to slot Villanova with Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh in my preliminary January edition of the March Five. For the first time Jay Wright not only has a team that can make noise in conference and beat any team on a given day, but he may also finally have a group with a diverse enough attack to win six games in a row when it matters most. In one day, the Villanova went from on the brink of elimination to temporarily slotted in my March Five. I would say that qualifies as a successful day in the Carrier Dome.

Photo: US Presswire
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 14, 2011 12:58 am
Edited on: January 14, 2011 12:46 pm

Ranking the undefeateds

Posted by MATT JONES

As the horn ticked down the final seconds in Tallahassee on Wednesday night and it became clear that No. 1 Duke would drop from the rank of the unbeatens, the refrain from the pundits in the sports world could be heard once again. "It is impossible to go undefeated in college basketball now and I guarantee it will never happen again!" In reality, it is hard to argue that point. No team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1976 and with the exception of UNLV in 1991 and Memphis in 2008, no team has really come all that close. College basketball has seen a seismic shift due to the increased attention on basketball in all BCS programs, early entry into the NBA Draft and a changed television landscape that allows more than just the top ten programs to sell the idea of regular national exposure. In that landscape, realistically there are simply too many land mines for a team to ever complete an undefeated season.

Realism however, is overrated. Anyone can say something can't happen. It is much more fun to imagine what could be. In that vein, it is worth exploring which of the four currently undefeated teams is most likely to finish the season without a blemish. To navigate such a road, a team must possess four important traits:

1.  Top-Level Coach:   Every team, no matter how talented, will be faced with 2-3 games that will be won with late coaching decisions and end-of-game scenarios in which a particular designed play, substitution or defensive adjustment is the difference between victory and defeat. A few years back, current Minnesota coach Tubby Smith told me that coaching was about two things primarily, pre-game preparation/motivation and making the right decision in the last two minutes. With close games inevitable for any team looking to go unblemished, there simply must be a master tactician on the sidelines.

2.  Adaptable Personnel:   Great teams can come in many shapes and sizes.  The 1992 Duke team was built around three superstars (Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill) and a group of talented role players, the 2007 Florida team had a core starting five as good as any in the last 25 years and the 1996 Kentucky team simply tried to overwhelm its opponents with eight future NBA players. However each of these teams had a vulnerability that when exploited, caused the group to drop random games during the season. An undefeated team must have a very unique quality.  It must be adaptable to any style of play and with no obvious stylistic weakness. If your team can't shoot, isn't athletic enough, doesn't play hard-nosed defense or can't rebound, chances are you will face one team on your schedule whose best strength is exploiting that weakness, and your undefeated run will end.

3.  A Favorable Schedule:   In order to go undefeated, it isn't simply enough that a team be great, its opponents need to also be decidedly mediocre. Every team will face at least eight conference games on the road and potentially another couple of tough games on the road or neutral sites in the non-conference season. Those are at least ten chances to slip up without your home crowd there to rescue you from a bad game. If these opponents are teams like SMU and Houston, as Memphis faced in 2008, the chances of an undefeated season are much greater than if you get UCONN and Pitt.  Schedules matter and if an undefeated team is ever to exist, chances are they will play a weak one.

4.  Luck:   You don't go undefeated without winning at least one game you should/could have lost due to a favorable bounce, loose ball or questionable call. Again, go back to the team that came the closest to accomplishing this feat, the 2008 Memphis Tigers. In two games, Memphis was defeated by end of game shots. If Mario Chalmers misses one three-pointer just an inch to the left or right, John Calipari and the Tigers become immortal legends. Nothing Calipari did (well, except not fouling before the shot went off) had any effect on the shot, but rather his team's fate was in another's hands.  Chalmers takes the shot, the ball goes in and 1976 Indiana remains the gold standard. One moment changes history and for an undefeated team, that 50-50 moment must fall with them, instead of against them.

With those four requirements in place, the question then becomes, which of the current undefeateds best meet the criteria?   Currently, we are left with Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and San Diego State as the sole remaining undefeated teams and in reality, none is likely to approach an undefeated season. However with realism not our goal, it is worth ranking the teams in order of potential to reach undefeated immortality:

The Jayhawks' stellar play has been one of the surprises of the early season and with the experience returning from last year's disappointing NCAA Tournament exit, there is a core group of players who have tasted enough big games to contend come March. Bill Self has a National Championship under his belt, but he does have detractors who believe that his in-game adjustments leave something to be desired. Kansas has already survived two games it could have lost this year against USC and UCLA and has an overtime win on the road at Michigan that it was fortunate to escape. The roster is likely the most diverse of all the undefeated teams, with the Morris twins and Josh Selby ensuring that there will be no team the Jayhawks can't score on, or defend. The Big 12 is good, but not great, and with the disappointing play of Kansas State, a couple of games that seemed like hurdles now seem a bit more doable. The only ranked teams the Jayhawks will face on the road are Missouri and potentially Kansas State, thus putting Kansas in the spot of most likely to accomplish this impossible dream.

Most Likely Loss:   Missouri, in the final game of the regular season. In the unlikely event Kansas comes in undefeated, Mike Anderson's squad will ensure that no team goes into NCAA play without a blemish.

The Buckeyes have a superstar in Jared Sullinger and a balanced attack that allows a number of different scoring options depending on how teams choose to defend them. Like Kansas, Ohio State can adapt to a number of different styles and are likely only vulnerable against a team that runs and can put up points in a hurry, a type of play that it doesn't see in the Big Ten. Thad Matta is one of the most underrated tacticians in college basketball and his ability to produce a gameplan specifically designed to exploit his opponent's weakness is consistently undervalued. He has in the past been to the national title game with a young big man and Ohio State wins more than its share of close games. Early this year, the Buckeyes haven't been tested a great deal, but they play in the Big Ten, which this season is the best conference in America. The schedule includes road games at Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue. Matta gets Michigan State in Columbus, but the run of road games against good teams makes for a couple of likely stumbles.

Most Likely Loss:   Minnesota on February 6.  Tubby Smith's team does not necessarily like to run, but it can shoot and has size in order to attempt to neutralize Jared Sullinger. Smith will need a top win at home and this is exactly the type of game he takes pride in stealing.


No team has been consistently overlooked more often this season than Syracuse. The combination of the "never leave New York" non-conference schedule and the disappointing ending in last year's NCAA Tournament has made the 'Cuse a team with more than its share of skeptics early. Jim Boeheim is one of the best coaches in America and is one of the best at the tactical side of the game. He does however have one of the least adaptable teams among the Top 10 however, as Syracuse has shown itself to be vulnerable to any team that tries to push tempo and can hit threes at a rapid rate.  The schedule is brutal, with road games at Pittsburgh, UCONN, Villanova and Georgetown. Syracuse isn't a contender to go undefeated, and its main concern should be finishing in the top three in the Big East.

Most Likely Loss:   Pittsburgh on Monday. Pitt is better on both offense and defense and will have a home crowd rocking for the national television audience on Martin Luther King Day. The Orange ride ends then.


The Aztecs are a great story, playing in the forgotten Mountain West and bringing the name Steve Fisher back to the mainstream. The team is on the precipice of a top 5 ranking and is getting national attention for the first time in decades. After making the NCAA Tournament last year and with a roster of experienced and talented players, San Diego State is for real. Steve Fischer is a much-maligned figure, who is often given the label as "worst coach to ever win an NCAA title." Still, one can't argue with how he has built the San Diego State program and his winning percentage is impressive. San Diego State matches up well with a host of different teams, but could struggle with the talent gap if it plays one of the other top teams in America. The schedule is harder than it may appear, with three very difficult road games at New Mexico, BYU and UNLV highlighting the rest of the season. Even if it were to get through that run, San Diego State is not a team built to win a championship and would fall in March.

Most Likely Loss:  BYU on January 26.  The Aztecs could fall this weekend in the Pit vs New Mexico, but if not, will surely see a defeat when Jimmer is unleashed in two weeks.

Photo: AP
Posted on: January 11, 2011 12:30 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2011 2:08 pm

Gtown making it tough for 'Cuse fans to buy tix

Posted by Matt Norlander

The game isn't until Feb. 26 (Senior Night for Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Julian Vaughn), but there's already a lot of controversy surrounding it. And although this looks mighty unfair, I think it's bloody fantastic, primarily because it adds another layer to the hatred between the fanbases.

Syracuse vs. Georgetown is a top-five rivalry in college basketball, and this is a premier example of why. Syracuse, having loads of alumni based in greater Washington, D.C., almost always has terrific fan support for the Orange's annual trip into the District.

The game is much less of a home feel for Georgetown whenever SU shows up. Understandably, this irks the Hoyas' alumni base. But, hey, don't let SU fans snatch up the tickets, right? Well, obstructions have been put in place for that. Now it seems those with power of ticket distribution want to make it as tough and annoying as possible for SU fans to see their team. Look for yourself: it appears individual game tickets can't be purchased on Ticketmaster.

It's not been an out-and-out cold shoulder, but let's just say some savvy folks in charge of distributing tickets have made it a pain for Orange fans to get ducats. And Georgetown has done what other teams at all levels have: force fans to buy group tickets to make more money and sell more seats for less-desired games.

It's the mask that's donned so Syracuse fans can't just purchase a one-game-only stub for the SU-Georgetown tilt on Feb. 26. Also worth knowing: This is the first scheduled home game against Syracuse on a weekend in five years. Demand: high. Georegetown's options: plentiful. Barring a Hoyas collapse, this will be a tough ticket.

The excellent Orange-flavored blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, has been all over this for more than a week now, as this has been a smoldering topic since shortly after the new year began.

I spoke with a D.C.-based SU alum who clued me in to how this works. See, every year, Georgetown goes to alumni clubs around the District and disperses tons of tickets for opposing teams' fans to buy. Syracuse was flatly ignored this year. But diligent SU fans, like the ones behind Otto's Army, obfuscated this quagmire and found a way to get tickets: make a $25 dollar donation to Georgetown University. Then you get your single-game ticket.

Here's the proof.

Call it a Hoya tax, if you will. It's infuriating for SU faithful, but it's working.The aforementioned alum told me yesterday what the experience was like when she called over the phone to obtain tickets.

"When I called myself the kid was like, 'Yeah, we still have hundreds of tickets. But unless you donate you can't have them.' Obnoxious," she said.

Somehow, this rivalry has gotten not nearly the pub it deserves in the past five years, when both programs have been strong. Things like this keep it as hateful and sinister as any. No matter how Georgetown tries to spin this, it's obvious: The school is doing its best to keep as many Syracuse fans out of the building in seven weeks.

In doing so, the Orange fires appear to have been stoked that much more.

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com