There’s plenty to go over today after the Orange escaped the RAC with a ten-point win that was much closer than the score would indicate. Let’s get to it!
- The talk of Jim Boeheim using an expanded rotation has calmed over the last few weeks, as only seven (occasionally eight) players have played significant roles in non-blowout games. I’ve mentioned it before in this space, but the argument of who should start and who should come off the bench is something of a fool’s errand, as the overall distribution of minutes is more important. While there’s some validity to the argument that Rakeem Christmas starting and being lucky to make it past the first media timeout makes the team sluggish out of the gate, who’s to say that C.J. Fair would take well to starting on a consistent basis when all we have to go on is the three average performances he turned in when Fab Melo was suspended? None of it matters, at least not this season. Starting versus coming off the bench is a matter of semantics in Fair’s case. He’s played at least 35 minutes in each of the last four games and has actually received more playing time in the last six games than every starter except Kris Joseph.
- Sunday was a banner day for C.J. Fair. He had 14 points and six rebounds in the first half alone, and finished with a career-high 21 and eight. What I found most astounding is the incredibly efficient fashion in which Fair sculpted his game, taking just eight shots from the floor and doing most of his damage from the free throw line. Unofficially, he is the first ‘Cuse player to score at least 20 points on so few shots since Preston Shumpert in November 2001. While many of his attempts were within five feet of the hoop – we didn’t see much of the mid-range jumper – many of them had a degree of difficulty to factor in. Before moving on, I also wanted to point out that contributing to the efficiency was the fact that Fair didn’t turn the ball over a single time. The ability to hold onto the ball is something Fair has proven he can do on a game-to-game basis, but I feel like I’ve taken that part of his skill set for granted. He’s had just one outing with three turnovers, and has coughed it up a paltry total of four times in his last 200 minutes played. That kind of ball control, plus his rebounding ability, makes Fair a multi-layered threat, and it showed in the second half as Rutgers threatened in the second half. After Syracuse climbed to a six-point lead just after halftime, the Scarlet Knights battled back to bring the deficit to two. After the intermission, Fair went quiet. He didn’t attempt a shot until he hit a three with 13:38 remaining to up the SU lead from two to five. Less than two minutes later, he finished on a lob from Jardine, but wouldn’t record another shot attempt the rest of the way. He ripped two late steals and iced the game with some free throws to prove his value, but I couldn’t help but think that the game could have been put out of reach a little earlier if only the Orange looked his way more often.
- That’s admittedly a little picky of me to say, considering how Syracuse was outworked inside. Even with Fair having a nice day on the glass, the Orange were out-rebounded by Gilvydas Biruta and Dane Miller. SU’s rebounding troubles are out in the open, but we haven’t seen the team struggle defending the paint like this in some time. Normally, Melo patrols the lane well on his own, only occasionally needing help, but Biruta got to the hole almost whenever he wanted. While Melo had to deal with some early foul trouble, it wasn’t an issue all game, so to see him recoil throughout the afternoon like he did was a little disappointing.
- He probably shouldn’t be this low on the bullet list, but after putting up a stinker in Louisville to follow up possibly the best game of his career, Scoop Jardine was excellent against Rutgers. Despite the tense feeling we all get when he takes a shot we don’t anticipate, he has a ton of confidence in himself and it’s easy to see how well the rest of the team works with him when he’s on. He craves the spotlight, but he won’t scurry away when he does something costly. Jardine’s horrible free throw shooting doesn’t make me feel that great about him handling the ball when the team has a lead to protect, but on the flip side, it’s bad enough that it’s not a question.
- People much closer to the team than I have witnessed firsthand the way Jardine leads in the locker room to go along with what we see in games. While the stat community tends to be quick to dismiss, or at least devalue the things it can’t see in a box score (such as leadership in the locker room or in practice), it’s tough to deny that there’s something to Jardine’s demeanor that impacts everyone around him.
The season has absolutely flown by. Only three more weeks until Selection Sunday!