Orange Gathering More Steam
It’s been a few days since the last post, and there’s plenty to catch up on. While Seton Hall is much improved, SU’s first two opponents of the conference schedule don’t exactly epitomize the strength and prominence for which the Big East is known. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by the Orange’s performance over the last week. Let’s get right to it!
- If I didn’t lead with Fab Melo’s wrath of destruction, I would probably have to give up my blogger card. He’s been an absolute monster as of late, and with each passing game, it’s getting harder to believe that the 2010-11 version of him wasn’t played by some sort of doppelganger. Last season, Melo played in 16 conference games (he spent the other two games in Jim Boeheim’s doghouse, if you recall) and only stayed on the floor long enough to block eight shots. All it took was one game for him to top that mark, and after following that up with six swats on Sunday, he’s now doubled his blocks total from last season in 12.5% of the games. When people talk about game-changing players, generally, they refer to players who can score a flurry of points in a limited amount of time or someone who needs the ball when the game is on the line. Melo’s starting to break that mold with the respect he commands on defense. This season is looking awfully special for the Orange, and there’s a good chance Wednesday’s performance will be remembered as the best of the regular season.
- Using Melo’s defense as a launching point to discuss the team’s defense as a whole for a moment, I didn’t think it’d be possible for SU to top the defensive effort from the 2009-10 season, but it’s been terrific – they’re forcing turnovers at an insanely high rate through steals, blocks and otherwise suffocating defense. The runouts that have resulted from those extra possessions have been very influential in SU’s offensive efficiency, which ranks second in college basketball.
- The only thing worth harping on over the last two games is Kris Joseph’s goose egg Wednesday night. While it speaks volumes about Syracuse that the team can win by 26 with its most accomplished player going scoreless, it may also be what keeps him from being talked about as the conference’s best player. This year, the team is so deep that it doesn’t really matter that much who gets that kind of attention and who doesn’t, but as the competition ramps up, it’ll be important for Joseph to be a factor. Sunday was a nice bounceback effort, so it’s nothing to get worried about, but I don’t think Wednesday’s game shouldn’t have gone without mention, either.
- It was good to see C.J. Fair go above and beyond his normal workmanlike effort off the bench and put up a line like he did against the Blue Demons. None of his shots (six from the floor and four from the free throw line) failed to go through the hoop. It seems like once every few weeks, he shows that he’ll have no problem succeeding Joseph next season. I understand that Fair is frequently compared to Josh Pace as a forward who does all the little things off the bench, and I’ll always have deep respect for Pace being part of the 2003 championship run, but I also think the comparison sells Fair short by a considerable margin. For instance, Sunday’s game was Fair’s 47th in an SU uniform. He’s now scored ten or more points thirteen times. Through his first 47 games, Pace cracked double figures just six times. While Pace didn’t need to be a great rebounder playing alongside Hakim Warrick, Carmelo Anthony, Terrence Roberts and Daryl Watkins (though he was good on the glass), it’s tough to argue against Fair’s rebounding prowess in contrast. He’s already had two games with ten or more rebounds this season, while Pace didn’t accomplish the feat until his senior season. To put it another way, given his performance in an SU uniform to this point, if Fair maxed out at Pace’s career highs of ten points and five rebounds per game, I’d probably be a little disappointed.
SU gets one more game as a heavy favorite when they travel to the home of the Big East’s headquarters to play the dangerously thin Friars before what should be a much more challenging game Saturday against Marquette. It should be a great chance for SU to build some more momentum before the conference schedule starts to toughen.