Cuse Country

Home Away From Dome for Syracuse Orange Fans

“Holy crap. We’re executing.”

Posted by Josh on February 18, 2007

uconnphoto.jpgThe title here is the complete content of a text message I received during the 2nd half of the UConn game from the syracusan. As usual, he succeeded in taking all the complex factors that make up an SU basketball performance and encapsulating them in a few select words. Execution was the name of the game Saturday, and while Syracuse’s was far from flawless, they made enough plays in the second half; meanwhile, the new-look Huskies obliged by making no plays.

Credit for this win has to go squarely in the pocket of Paul Harris. The kid played like the beast we’ve been hoping for all year. He literally kept SU in the game in the first half with his scoring (from the field or the line) and rebounding. The P-S beat writers pointed out that not only did he secure 11 rebounds, he back-tapped several offensive rebounds to the guards in the mid-to-late second half, extending SU possessions, allowing them to bleed clock and maintain the lead. More than that, his aggressiveness seemed to infect the rest of the team, particularly Watkins who was a force on the boards. I was particularly impressed with the way Mookie played while in foul trouble — he stayed active and continued to go after rebounds, while playing smart and not trying to block every shot in the post. Also being aggressive was Nichols, not just in grabbing 9 rebounds but in looking for his shot when the team started to come apart late in the second half. The last two games, he hasn’t had another Jordan impersonation but he has hit important shots at important times. Having that kind of player will be crucial to any chances of postseason success (if they make it).

Also some love for Andy Rautins who played a very solid game. Hit some threes early, when the SU offense was not clicking otherwise, played solid man defense (really!) — even had a clean steal where he simply poked the ball away from his man and took it the other way for a driving layup under pressure (the defense caught up to him since he’s not terribly fast). And he played smart. The lineup of Harris, Rautins, Nichols, Watkins, and Dorf was the most effective and I expect we’ll see a lot more of it down the stretch if circumstances allow. Josh Wright’s confidence is pretty much shot at this point, but Rautins’ is on the rise; this lineup (particularly with Harris running the point and finding the shooters) is at the moment their best balance of outside shooting, ball-handling, rebounding, foul shooting and ball security. Especially since Wright insists on dribbling the ball off his foot several times a game; perhaps that’s how they do it in Utica.

I do want to pick on Dorf for a moment though. The man shot 4-17. That’s 23% for those of you keeping track. Some of the misses were legitimate shots — I remember one particular open three that just rolled out in the 2nd half, and he had a few drives to the hoop that were solid drives but got blocked, or he tried to draw a foul that didn’t get called. But too many of the misses were hurried jump shots, not created by any sort of offense or ball movement but basically just him hoisting jumpers because his man was not right up in his face. How is it that with nearly two full seasons under his belt, he still doesn’t know a good shot from a bad shot? Doesn’t it feel any different when you get an open look from 3 off ball reversal, compared to when you just pull up off the dribble and let it fly? These won’t show up as turnovers in the box score, but they are wasted possessions that continue to hurt.

While picking on the man, though, I do have to give him credit for cutting down on his (official) turnovers. The last few games, there has been much less of him bulling his way into the middle of the defense and then losing his dribble or throwing a wild pass that gets picked off. So maybe I am expecting him to mature in too many phases of the game at one time. Baby steps…

Take a breath this week — no game till Saturday. Time to rest up for the final push. SU will probably be underdogs in all three games — but at the moment we are in 4th place in the conference (believe it or not) so a strong showing down the stretch and we still could possibly be looking at a bye in NYC. Shocking.

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