(Take the following with a grain of salt. Syracuse is 19-1, 6-1 in the Big East, and will probably be ranked No. 4 in the country when they take on Georgetown Monday. I understand that's pretty good for a team that many experts thought might be a bubble team after losing last year's nucleus to graduation and - well, whatever you call Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf. But I'm a blogger, my job is to nitpick and criticize, right?)
I've mentioned before that Syracuse is going to have trouble with teams that are athletic and can defend all over the court (and don't tell me North Carolina is one of those teams because they don't defend anyone). I've pinpointed these teams left on the schedule as problem areas: UConn, Louisville, Villanova. To a lesser extent, Providence and St. John's will try to do the same thing, but you hope the talent gap will win out.
Of course, today was one of those lesser extent games against struggling Marquette, who was coming off a loss to DePaul, their first Big East win in nearly two years. And struggle was the word for the Cuse today, and the Golden Eagles made them work for everything in a 76-71 win.
The box score is a statistical contradiction. Syracuse outrebounded Marquette 43-21, yet took 14 less shots. The Orange shot 59% from the field (they have shot the bell tremendously all year long), yet only won by 5 at home. Time to worry? Well, kind of.
First, bad news: Marquette was small and athletic, and did very well attacking the Syracuse zone. They went 10-25 from 3-point range, but what opened up those shots was the fact that they were able to penetrate. This is the danger, especially against Villanova, but also against UConn and Louisville. It was way too easy for them to get into the lane at times, and that's why it was tied at halftime.
Also, they effectively took our guards out of the game with pressure and forced 22 turnovers, way too many at this level (Wesley Johnson had 6 and Rick Jackson 5. Andy Rautins only had 4). Rautins never scored, and in fact only got off 2 shots. Brandon Triche managed only 7 points and only took 5 shots. As I've said all year, neither one wants the ball against pressure and they saw plenty of it today.
On the flip side: Syracuse figured out they could do whatever it wanted to inside. Jackson and Onuaku (in foul trouble again) combined stats: 24 points, 11-12 FG, 10 rebounds. But while hose two were OK, Johnson - without anyone doubling him, was allowed to run wild, 22 pts (9-15 FG) and 15 rebs.
But with better, bigger players guarding the big guys and Johnson, will Syracuse have that kind of success? We shall see, but this paranoid blogger is worried.
A little worried.
OK, concerned, are you happy?
We'll just see you Monday night.