Cuse Country

Home Away From Dome for Syracuse Orange Fans

last minute flame outs

Posted by syracusan on February 8, 2007

Tim posed this question below:

Here’s a question for those in the know: Why are we crapping out at the end of every game? Has anyone seen a pattern in the way our play changes? I guess I’ve been too busy averting my eyes to put the puzzle together.

I have a theory. I like to call it The ’05-’06 Knicks Effect. This idea kicked around in the back of my head for years, ever since someone pointed out to me the pointless nature of the first 3 quarters of almost all NBA games. But last year’s Knicks team really allowed me to formulate the scattered empirical evidence into a coherent theorem.

It goes like this: Repeated 4th quarter failures are not about a lack of clutch play or any sort of systematic problem; instead what’s happening is the revelation of the actual difference in ability between the two teams. This theory is probably more universally applicable to professional games, but this year’s SU team leads me to believe it applies at the college level as well. The genesis of my thinking comes from last year’s NBA season, during which I was forced to listen to 5 months of analysis about why the Knicks were so bad during the 4th quarter of every game, despite their observed ability to stay close during the first 3 quarters.

As everyone knows the Knicks were God-awful last year, and spent the whole season blowing leads, losing close games, and letting close games turn into blowout losses. After the 97th time I heard some commentator on ESPN or MSG try to explain why it was happening, the futility of the exercise dawned on me. There was no point in examining the specific details of what turn of events caused them to blow this or that game in the 4th; there was no point in determining whether or not this or that player was “clutch”; there was no point in looking at issues of team chemistry or what changed on the floor between the 3rd and 4th quarters. As it turned out, all that was happening at the end of games was that the real Knicks were showing their face. When the other team realized that it was time to figure out who was going to win and who was going to lose, they turned on their maximum effort, and the Knicks simply couldn’t compete under those circumstances. They weren’t good enough. The reality of being worse than their opponents kicked in, and that was that.

Visually this would manifest itself in what appeared to be a lack of clutchness, or preventable breakdowns, or inexplicable turnovers, or failure to hit shots they had previously been hitting. But in reality, the other team had turned up the heat, and the relative difference in the two teams was now on display. Suddenly, the Knicks weren’t really open anymore, the other team was pushing on defense, getting their hands in people’s faces, cutting harder on offense, trying harder on the boards, and generally focusing more on their overall execution and effort. In other words, the other team wanted to win, and had the firepower to do it, so they did.

I’m not sold that this theory can explain losing to a team like St John’s. And I acknowledge that there’s a large difference between veteran pros and immature 19 year old college kids – a difference that makes any theory inherently unstable, since kids are unpredictable, still learning how good they are, and unlikely to follow given patterns. But I think this concept is a good starting point for explaining any team’s repeated 4th quarter (or final 10 minutes) failures.

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One Response to “last minute flame outs”

  1. Jim said

    I think one of the problems as to why the Orange have problems closing out games is their shoddy point guard play. Wright has issues turning over the ball, so Boeheim pulls him for the rest of the game (this often happens in games where Wright plays less than 28 minutes). Devendorf ends up with the majority of point guard responsibilities as there is no legitimate backup at the point on the roster. Since Devendorf does not have a point guard mindset, it is difficult for him/the team to get the ball to Nichols in end game situations.

    I wonder about the possibility of using Harris in some situations as the point guard. While he is not a true point, he is a good enough ballhandler to get away with it for a couple minutes at a time and his size helps him protect the ball. He is also a pretty good foul shooter (although he seems to fall into the “feast or famine” description in that he either is excellent or poor, depending on the game).

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