It’s hard to talk about this game in a way. It has nothing to do with the fact the Friars lost 66-72, nor does it have much to do with how they lost. It’s hard to talk about because it truly does feel like the beginning of the end of an era. There won’t be a “next year when we play the Cuse…” because there’s no promise we’ll play them next year (or ever again outside of tournaments), and there isn’t going to be a “when they come to the Dunk during the Big East season…” because there won’t be a Big East season for Syracuse ever again. The avalanche the Pitt and Syracuse chancellors started in August 2011 is stampeding towards the end-of-the-season finish line at this point. Kind of sad if you think about it.
But enough nostalgia, let’s talk basketball!
Hot Potatoes: Right out of the gate we were trading leads with the Orange. The Cuse would strike and start to build on something and all of a sudden Bryce Cotton would hit a few threes and we’d be back in the game. But we were our own worst enemy when it came to holding onto any sort of lead: free throws and rebounds.
Let’s start with rebounds. The Friars were outrebounded 27 to 41, with the Orange grabbing 18 offensive boards to Providence’s 9. This allowed for 17 second chance points alone for Cuse. The numbers alone are bad, but the bigger issue is how these numbers transpired. There’s no nice way to say it – Providence looked like they were rebounding with Vaseline on their hands. It’s one thing to get outmuscled, but to see a rebounder like Kadeem Batts go up to grab a board, only to have it slip through his fingers like a ghost punched the ball. The ball would fall to a Syracuse player who would gain control of it and allow the Orange to retain possession. At one point this happened three times in one possession before Syracuse finally converted on their fourth attempt.
Free throws were once again an issue for the Friars. Converting on just 65% of their free throw attempts (15-23) is harmful enough, but now combine that with all the missed rebound opportunities and you have a game that could have been won with an L next to it. Debating whether lack of hit free throws or lack of defensive rebounding was the cause for the L is infinite because strong cases could be made for both.
Say the Friars hit five more free throws – that makes them a very respectable 21-23, or 91% from the charity stripe, and it only puts them even with the Orange. Or, say they grabbed just a few more defensive rebounds and kept the Orange to 10 second chance points, the same amount the Friars hit – well now Providence is up by one at the end of the game. Put the two together in any sort of combination you wish and you have a solid home win over a top ranked team. Again, it’s not like you have someone in your face or you’re working against a shot clock when you’re taking free throw shots. Nor was it a situation where every one of these rebounds were wrestled away from the Friars by the Orange. These were two errors in the Friar performance that cost a W.
Back on O: In the latest edition of FriarPod one of the discussion points was how the Friar offense has lost it’s mojo because there were too many options. Who do you trust to make a shot? Before it was easy – you trust Cotton, Batts, sometimes Henton or even Lee, but the options were known and so there wasn’t an issue of players trying to make plays or take shots that may not be available. Thankfully this problem seems to have been resolved. The Friars shot well from the field, 21-50 for the game, with Bryce Cotton once again playing the role of Mr. Hothand with 24 points on 7-10 shooting (including 5-8 from the three).
It’s not all dandelions and NBA Jam though. Beyond Cotton the rest of the team struggled to score, including go-to scorers such as Batts (1-8 shooting) and Henton (4-11 shooting, and the only other Friar in double figures with 10 points). The shots being taken were, for the most part, smarter on the selection, but there were still moments when the Friars made you stand up and go “WTF mate?” However, acknowledging this team is a work in progress I will say the offensive improved vastly.
Pinewood Derby: Part of the offensive improvement I believe came from the rotation Cooley set up. From the starting lineup changes were obvious – Council and Dunn were both sitting on the bench, with Dunn being limited to just nine minutes. However, this was probably the most effective thing done with this team since Dunn, Council, and Johnson joined the lineup because it did a few things:
- Prevented offensive log jams (a.k.a. “who’s the shooter” syndrome)
- Allowed key players to rest
- Held players accountable
Let’s look at Dunn for example. Dunn was limited to nine minutes, but that was because he was accountable for two key turnovers that allowed Syracuse to score. Additionally, it gave the freshman star time to rest and relax his shoulder, while allowing the offense on the flow because there was less confusion over who was doing what. While this is just one example, it’s encouraging that Cooley is coaching this way because it shows true sophistication and understanding about his team’s chemistry. To that same effect, it allows teaching opportunities for players such as Dunn, so they can grow into better players on a game-to-game basis. It’s a Keno-era mistake to throw players into a game willy-nilly without forethought as to how those players will play together, just as it is a critical error not to hold players accountable or use the bench as a teaching opportunity because “they’ll get it eventually” or “they were rated so highly out of high school.”
Dunn is now a better player from this – probably not a superstar yet, but he doesn’t need to be, he just needs to improve. Take that example of Dunn and apply it to any other player you like – it works out. The numbers don’t lie, neither did the visual performance. There were mistakes, but if a player like Council comes off the bench and has an 4:1 assist/turnover ratio (8 and 2, respectively), doesn’t that show he’s grown more from the experience than when he started against DePaul and had a 6:8 ratio? I say yes.
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: Today’s Daily Double answer is ‘Syracuse basketball is best known for this type of defense’
If you answered ’2-3 zone!’ you’re wrong because you didn’t answer in the form of a question and clearly you don’t know how Jeopardy works. But you’re also right, it is the 2-3 zone. And boy oh boy when we played the zone against them did they ever not like it.
It’s clear at this point that until this team learns to play quicker on D or until reinforcements come next year we’re not going back to the man-to-man defense. It’s not effective for us, and we’re playing better in the zone anyway. Cooley kept the Friars in the zone for a large majority of the game, and it was largely effective. While Syracuse hammered the Friars in the paint (46 points. Let’s never talk about it again) the Friars actually guarded the three somewhat well. Syracuse shot 3-21 for the game from beyond the arc, good for a whooping 14%. While yes, they would occasionally get an open look, for the most part the Orange missed by a mile wide. While this isn’t to claim that Syracuse is some superstar 3 point shooting team that had their game completely striped of them from the zone, we can at least take away the fact that progress is being made on the defensive end after initial concerns from BC were carried up through DePaul. Furthermore, Syracuse shot 26-62 from the field for the game, good for 41%. That’s a problem in it’s own right, but most of those also came from Dunks and great post moves (sigh: 46 points in the paint). While there’s still work to do, the Friars at least displayed they were moving in the right direction defensively.
I’d also argue the defense was more effective because of the rotations for the same reason the offense seemed to flow better. The team is responding to better chemistry, and Cooley is making sure that he rotates and plays his players to that level of chemistry. It’s a smart coach who recognizes this and is able to adjust his rotations according, and Cooley is making those smart decisions.
Player of the Game: Bryce Cotton has redeemed himself from DePaul. He played intelligently, worked well with the flow on offense and defense, and was making the right decisions at the right time. Although his offensive game slowed down in the second half he was able to continue to find ways to be effective, and the full 40 minutes of playing time reflects that. It’s no secret that we here at Friarblog love Ice, so to him I say “well done” and “please do this again against Seton Hall.”
The Jimmy Rustler of the Game:
It’s hard to argue that Kadeem Batts had a rough game. He couldn’t hold onto a rebound, nor could he put the ball in the basket. In 37 minutes the F/C had 1-8 shooting and 5 boards, not his best stat line of all time to say the least. Everyone is entitled to a rough game, but you have to feel for Kadeem – he looked frustrated and annoyed with himself out there, like someone who studied his ass off for a final exam only to go in and completely blank on everything he’d worked on. Tough to excuse this performance, but also tough to harp on a guy too much who clearly has improved over last season for one bad game.