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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just win, baby

I wrote a column for my local Connecticut paper last month about a team that won the state football championship. They had been 4-6 the year before, but it became apparent to me about halfway through this season that they had "it."
What was "it"?
It's that something that coaches kill for and fans don't understand. It goes beyond stats. It is just something that when you watch a team play, you just get the feeling they're going to win.
The 2003 Syracuse national championship basketball team had "it" at the end of the season (which obviously involves talent as well), and they got just enough contribution for various different sources to run through the 64-team tournament field.
By contrast, it never really seemed like any team with Eric Devendorf on it (although last year's tournament run was impressive) had "it."
"It" involves talent, leadership, and a general confidence that borders on arrogance, but doesn't cross that line (see Devendorf).
The jury is still out on this year's version of the Orange, but it might be there this season. They have some holes: they don't handle the ball well at all (which will be a big problem against Louisville, Marquette, Villanova, UConn, and even Providence), they have a couple of woeful free throw shooters in the post, by playing exclusively zone they are vulnerable to good shooting teams.
But after today's impressive road win over West Virginia (in which all of their weaknesses were evident in small doses), I'm starting to figure out that they don't seem to care. And if they don't care, then maybe they can make this a special season in Syracuse.
Another sign that your team has "it": everything your coach does works. Brandon Triche was dreadful against Rutgers, so bad that he played only 17 minutes. His sub, Mookie Jones went off for 11 points.
Today, Triche scored a team-high 16 points and was 6-of-8 from the field (the big statistical reason why Syracuse is so good is that their shooting is remarkable on a game-to-game basis). Jones played only three minutes.
Confidence problem? Not on a team that has "it".
"One of the troubles I've been having is with pressure, turning the ball over a little bit," Triche said. "I think I dealt with the pressure well at the end of the game."
There is a long way to go in the season. Syracuse still has Georgetown and Louisville twice each, and a test Monday night in South Bend against a good-shooting Notre Dame team.
But even if they lose a couple of games down the stretch, as long as they keep that confidence, as long as they have "it", they could make a long run in March.
And maybe even into April.

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