Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Song of the Week

"Award Tour" - A Tribe Called Quest
Phife Dawg passed away last week at the age of 45.
I was never a huge Tribe fan, but I acknowledge their place in hip-hop history.

I chose this song for the line "I never let a statue tell me how nice I am."
I take it to be his way of saying he doesn't care about a Grammy Award.
But if you extrapolate that out, you can derive a deeper meaning: "don't let other people influence how you feel about yourself."
Shit is deep.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It's Really Real

Just because I was sure that I had fallen asleep on the couch when Syracuse trailed Virginia by 15 points with 9 minutes to go and dreamed what happened next, I decided to go back and watch that final stretch again.

And since Texas A&M's epic comeback against Northern Iowa deserved a breakdown in its own post, this one did as well.

Syracuse score listed first, throughout:

9:47 left: Michael Gbinije hits two free throws. 39-51
9:31: London Perrantes hits deep 3, his 6th of the game, taps his forehead. 39-54

9:17: Trevor Cooney drives, dishes to Tyler Roberson for a dunk. 41-54
8:52: Malcolm Brogdan drives, misses, Tyler Lydon rebounds
8:46: Trevor Cooney drives, gets a layup. 43-54
8:33: Virginia breaks the press, Darius Thompson hits a layup, 43-56
8:23: Malachi Richardson gets fouled, hits 2 free throws, 45-56
8:17: Virgina breaks the press but Anthony Gill travels under the basket
7:56: Richardson drives and hits one over Gill, 47-56
7:50: Gbinije strips Thompson, Thompson falls, takes out Lydon
7:37: Richardson drives & misses, Roberson fouled going for rebounds, makes both free throws 49-56
7:31: Virginia breaks the press, Devon Hall gets easy layup, 49-58
7:13: Richardson hits step-back 3. 52-58
7:05: Perrantes throws bad pass, Richardson knocks it out off Brogdan
6:51: Tyler Lydon hits a 3, 55-58
6:40: Brogdan drives, misses
6:37: Gbinije streaks full-court for layup, 57-58
6:00: Perrantes misses floater
5:50: Richardson knifes through the lane for a layup, 59-58
5:26: Brogdan drives, shot blocked by Lydon
5:18: Perrantes fouled by Roberson
5:00: Perrantes missed 3
4:38: Richardson face up for another 3, dons the 3-goggles, 62-58

3:56: Hall missed shot, Lydon taps rebound to Cooney
3:27: Richardson drives on Brogdan, misses, Roberson taps rebound off the glass, Richardson grabs it, fakes Tobey and goes up for a layup, 64-58

And there you have it. That's what a 6-minute, 25-4 run looks like when you break it down.

And this is what it looks like when you edit it all together in one 3-minute video:

11 possessions (12 if you include the Gbinije free throws) and Syracuse scored every time, missing only one shot.
Over that same span, Virginia made 2 out of 7 shots and turned it over 3 times (the travel, the bad pass, and the strip steal)

Now let's get back to Boeheim. He absolutely deserves a ton of credit for pushing the envelope and going into the zone. But (and it's not just me saying this, Charles Barkley said the same thing) you have to imagine they could have won more games over the years had he been as willing to abandon his game plan and try something different.

Also, the players play. Yes, he surely coached them to drive to the basket, but he couldn't have coached them to hit those 3s. The players did that. And they needed every single one of those plays to win this game and make the Final Four, where it may require more coaching strategy, and more incredible play to beat North Carolina and eventually take home the title.

Monday, March 28, 2016

It's So Crazy I Feel Like It's Not Real

I admit it. I gave up. And this wasn't one of my half-hearted, prepare-for-the-worst give ups, this was the real-deal, game's-over, start-dealing-with-the-hurt give up. There were 9 and a half minutes left. The Orange had gotten behind by 16 points. Then they cut it to 8.
Virginia hit 3 3-pointers and it was back to 15.
And I'm pretty sure everyone reading this had pretty much the same thoughts.
But not Chase. I told him it was over, hoping that if we started mourning early, the grieving process wouldn't result in tears when the stone-cold truth finally set in.
Chase said "it's never over til it's over." And even more importantly, he believed it.
It's great to be 8.

I'm still in shock over what transpired over the next 10 minutes and I promise to watch that stretch again and have a more detailed, thoughtful, basketball analysis of one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

But for now I just want to speak from the heart.

I have always given Coach Boeheim a tough time for mostly 3 things but they all changed tonight:

1) His prickliness. He's a grumpy old curmudgeon. Sometimes it's cute and acceptable, other times it's rude and condescending. Tonight, even though he barely cracked a smile he said he's never been prouder of a group than he was of this team.

2) His tournament record. Yes, it's good, and he's now going to his 5th Final Four, but with all the great teams, 1 title seems too few, especially considering all the upsets (Navy, Richmond, Vermont, Texas A&M, Marquette, Dayton) all double-digit seeds that knocked off superior Orange teams. And until tonight, the Orange had never pulled off a major, shocking upset in the tournament.

3) His strategy. He plays 2-3 until the cows come home and if you can beat it, well then, he'll shake your hand and offer kind wishes for luck in the next round. Tonight he changed, he adjusted. He saw that when given time Virginia was picking apart the zone and nailing 3-pointers from the place now known as Curryland. But he made an adjustment, threw something at them that they weren't expecting and it helped them win the game.

As I tried to rationalize with an 8-year-old I explained that Syracuse would have to score nearly every time they had the ball.
And wouldn't you know it, they pretty much did, scoring on 12 straight possessions that turned a 54-39 deficit into a 64-58 lead.

Malachi Richardson provided the spark offensively, nailing 3s, and even more importantly driving to the basket and getting fouled. You were impressed when a freshman named Gerry McNamara scored 18 points in the first half of a tournament game (yes, I know it was the Final), how about a freshman scoring 21 in the second half, when every single one was crucial.

And even more amazingly perhaps, Tyler Lydon, helped seal the victory with his defense (5 more blocks, 2 down the stretch) and his rebounding.

He also made a 3-pointer with one shoe, though that part may have been forgotten with all the other much more improbable things that occurred later.

And as always it was the senior duo of Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije who led this team back by always making plays and finally closing out on shooters. They don't just lead emotionally, the lead with their play and their effort. They deserve all the adulation they received from the Orange fans in Chicago.

And speaking of adoring fans, they had a pretty good party near campus, 500 kids, at least, turning up on Walnut.

But that wasn't all they were celebrating.

The Syracuse Orange women's basketball team also made the Final Four. Suffering no letdown after their big upset of #1-seed South Carolina, pounding the Tennessee Lady Vols, who while good, ain't what they used to be.

Alexis Peterson had another great game, this time scoring 29 points to go along with 6 assists on 11-20 shooting (3 of 4 from deep).

And always bringing the emotion and energy we have come to expect from her.

And of course, keeping true my adage about the women's tournament: win or lose, everyone on both teams cries after the game.

And then leading the team in a rousing rendition of "what up squad?"

The other big star was Brianna Butler who had been in a shooting slump until she nailed 4 of 10 3-pointers against South Carolina and then 6 of 15 against Tennessee, including 2 in 30 seconds in the 4th quarter that turned a 4-point lead into a 10-point lead from which the Orange never looked back.

They're going to need all the 3s from Butler, Peterson, Maggie Morrison and everyone else to have any prayer against UConn in the National Championship game. But the Orange do have a winnable game coming up against Washington, another surprise regional winner, coming from the 7 seed to knock off Stanford (which had vanquished Notre Dame) to earn its spot in the Final Four.

These two teams met in a preseason tournament and the Orange won by 4, but had a much bigger lead before holding on.

But that's an issue for another time, for tonight we will celebrate and try to hold on to the feeling of the best day in the history of Syracuse sports. The day the men's and women's teams overcame great odds and tough opponents to make it to the Final Four.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What A (Bria or Briana) Day!

Today has the potential to be a monumental day in Syracuse basketball history.
By the end of the day, we could have not one, but two teams in the Final Four!
At 3:30pm the women play followed by the men at 6.
Entering the women's tournament it seemed like a 3-team race. UConn would likely win, Notre Dame and South Carolina had a chance. Both those teams lost only one game all season, to UConn.
But Friday night, not only did #4 Syracuse knock off South Carolina, but Stanford beat Notre Dame.
In both those regions the 7-seed beat the 2 and the 3, setting up 4 vs. 7 in both regionals for a date in the National Semifinals.
Syracuse's 7th-seeded opponent however is Tennessee. The second-best program in women's college basketball history.
But this is not the Tennessee teams you may remember under Pat Summitt.
This is the highest seed the Lady Vols have ever gotten. Syracuse lost to them once already this season, 57-55 in Tennessee.

A brief aside about why I like women's basketball: Yes, I prefer men's. But the games are close enough to still be basketball and different enough to still be interesting.

The skill level in men's is obviously higher. But the women play a more wide open game (because they're smaller, they cover less floor space), they pass more and because they don't shoot 3s as well (Syracuse has 3 players shooting 31% or higher on at least 145 attempts), they don't just stand there jacking them up.

But my favorite difference is the emotion. The players aren't in college trying to kill time before they go pro. In the NCAA Tournament, win or lose every player on both teams cries.

And Syracuse fans get one extra reason to enjoy the game: Alexis Peterson.
A pound guard who relentlessly pushes the ball, plays tough defense, shoots 3s and most importantly, makes her free throws, 86% on 29 attempts in the tournament.
And as for the aforementioned emotion -- she's got that too.

The men will also be trying to reverse an earlier defeat against conference rival Virginia. In fact, it's not much of a rivalry, Virginia has beaten Syracuse all 3 times they played since the Orange entered the ACC.

The narrative (that I don't quite believe in) is that non-conference teams can't figure out the 2-3 zone, but conference foes know just what to do. But as the great Pete Bell said "it's know what you do, god damn it, it's how you do it." If SU aggressively doubles the post, and still gets back out on shooters, it's more difficult for teams to beat the zone. If the opponent makes their 3s, contested or otherwise, then the zone is beat.

I don't have high hopes for their chances against Virginia but for a team that wasn't even supposed to be here, it's been a great tournament run, no matter how it ends.

And we can also remember the senior seasons of Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije fondly.

But both these teams have surprised us before, maybe they have more in store.