Sorry these thoughts are late, but after I flew back from Louisville on Thursday, I was pretty beat from the traveling. Since it's Friday already, I'm going to post the Louisville thoughts as well as the preview for the big matchup with #4 Syracuse on Saturday. (By the way, I'll be on color for Saturday's game, so listen on in to 89.5 FM WSOU or online at WSOU.net!)
The thoughts come first:
The Pirates were out of this game after the first 10 minutes. They came out with nothing, missing shots, turning the ball over, and playing lackadaisical D. As a result, the Cards blitzed them out of the gate, opening the game on a 24-2 run that made the remaining 30 minutes an afterthought. There was no one Pirate to single out for this big Cardinals run. It was a team-wide failure to come out with energy and urgency. Because they were coming off an emotional loss to Kentucky, you knew Louisville was going to come out firing, and the Pirates' failure to realize this ended up costing them the game.
- The Fuquan Show
The unquestioned highlight of the night was when Edwin went on a personal 11-2 run, knocking down shots, driving to the basket, and even getting a few deflections over a 4-minute span in the second half. He ended up with a career-high 18 points, but even that remarkable individual effort only cut the lead for the Cards down to 19. Edwin is looking like the future Hazell on this team, meaning the future centerpiece, and I think the Pirates really need to run more offense through him. His jumper could get more consistent, and he definitely needs to spend the whole summer dribbling a basketball, but Fuquan has a knack for scoring the ball, and since he's the only active Pirate with that knack, he should be a bigger part of the offense in the near future. He's certainly earned it.
- J-Theo and J-Rob
The former had yet another awful game, and the latter scored 14 points, but inefficiently so as he continued to jack up ill-advised threes. Theodore needs to regain his confidence with a big game (16 or so points, 5-6 assists, low turnovers), and I think if he has one, he'll be ok. I understand that he's trying to carry the team and be a leader, so I can't fault him for that. But his strength is not in his shot- it's in his driving and passing. Right now, he's shooting a little too much. Perhaps he could pass off some of his shots to his fellow PC alum...
Robinson on the other hand needs some sense knocked into him. I didn't bring it up on air on Wednesday night, but Patrik Auda did not play because of a sprained big toe that will sideline him for a week or two. That leaves the Pirates even thinner on the front line, with Anali Okoloji as the only substitute big man (if you don't count Aaron Geramipoor, who was dressed again for Wednesday's game but did not play). The Pirates DESPERATELY need Robinson to stop shooting threes and get down in the trenches to help out Herb Pope, who quite frankly needs it right now. Pope has not been rebounding the ball at the rate he did last year, and Robinson is certainly better in the post than on the perimeter, where he is neither a good shooter nor a passable ball handler. If he really wants to help the team, he'll get back in the paint. If he doesn't, it will tell Pirate fans something unpleasant about J-Rob- that he's in it for himself and not the team. I sincerely hope he realizes this.
Now for the preview of the Pirates' matchup with the undefeated #4 Syracuse Orange.
2010-11 record: 15-0 (2-0 Big East)
2009-10 record: 30-5 (15-3 Big East, NCAA Sweet 16)
Key losses: Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku, Wesley Johnson
Key returnees: Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson, Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, James Southerland
The Orange lost a ton of experience and scoring when Rautins, Onuaku and Johnson all graduated, or in Johnson's case got drafted as a lottery pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves. But true to form, they have filled the void thanks to increased contributions from Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, and Rick Jackson.
Joseph is a matchup nightmare on the wing, as he's basically a small power forward out there who can drive with abandon to the hoop. He has also demonstrated an improved outside shot, averaging a team-leading 15.1 PTS while shooting 46% from the field, 36% from deep, and 76% from the line. Jardine has upped his scoring as well to 13.9 PTS. He has struggled with his three-point shot, making less than 30% from there this year, but Jardine's main contribution is his passing, averaging 6.2 AST and making the Orange offense run smoothly. Jackson is the Big East's leading rebounder so far this year, averaging a double-double of 13.5 PTS and 11.7 REB. He has also blocked over 2 shots per game as the anchor down low for head coach Jim Boeheim.
Other contributors in the rotation for the Orange are combo guard Brandon Triche, who does a little of everything, freshman forward Dion Waiters, who can score the ball well, and much-improved forward James Southerland, who can stretch the floor from the 4 spot. The Orange can also bring shot-blocker Baye Moussa-Keita off the bench.
One player who has had surprisingly little impact box-score wise is 7-foot freshman center Fab Melo. Melo is averaging just 2 points and 2 rebounds a game in just 11 minutes per, but has started every game this year. The main reason he is still starting is beyond the box score. Melo is a terror in the middle of the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone with his sheer size, but I would have thought that his size would lead to more impact on the scoreboard than the 2.1 PTS he's averaging.
The Pirates MUST get two things to even have a ghost of a chance against a defense like the Orange's: BALL MOVEMENT and MAN MOVEMENT. If the Pirates' offense stalls, they might as well give the Orange the W right now. Since the Pirates don't have Jeremy Hazell for this game like they did for the last game against Syracuse, they cannot settle for threes if they hope to compete in this game. The way to beat a 2-3 zone is with ball movement, with specific attention paid to trying to get the ball to two areas- the high post and the short corner on either side. Those are where the normal gaps are in that zone, so it is crucial that they look for Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope in those areas. If Robinson shoots threes in this game, the Pirates are doomed. They need all the help they can get on the boards against the massive Orange front line.
Defensively, the Pirates seem to like the 2-3 zone themselves, either standard or matchup, and both will work against Syracuse if they do two things- a) stay alert at ALL TIMES, watching out for cutters and helping out on post-ups, and b) PACK THE PAINT. The way to defend Syracuse this year, with no outstanding deep threat like an Andy Rautins or an Eric Devendorf or a Wes Johnson, is to pack the paint and make them make threes. Again, this is tough to do since Syracuse is so good at moving the ball and working for a good shot, but that's the way the Pirates have to play. They don't have the personnel to match up man-to-man, so both teams should play zone the entire game.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- They have movement of both the ball and themselves on offense
- They pack the paint and make the Orange make threes
- Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope hold their own on the boards
ORANGE WILL WIN IF:
- They own the paint on defense (including the boards)
- They get too many easy baskets
- They get unexpected contributions from their bench (Waiters, Southerland, CJ Fair, etc...)
The Pirates need to play a practically perfect game to beat this team, and although this is a home game (and the first true road game for the Orange), we all saw the Rock last year filled with a lot of orange. The game is sold out, so expect the same bi-partisan crowd. The Pirates need to keep the Orange fans at bay as much as they possibly can, because once the Syracuse crowd gets into it, the team feeds off the energy and are almost impossible to beat. Can a sold-out Rock get the Pirates going?