Orange Proves It Can Win At All Paces
Like last Monday’s game against Louisville, Wednesday’s win over South Florida featured an opponent trying to beat the Orange by making Jim Boeheim’s troops play defense for most of the shot clock and then make shots of their own while trying to force their style. Both games were played at sluggish paces; the win over the Cardinals was the slowest game of the conference season, checking in at 58 possessions (65 is roughly the D-I average), though it’s worth noting that the game was filled with offensive rebounds, which compress pace even if the action isn’t at a crawl. while last night’s victory was a 61-possession affair. Both opponents tried to frustrate the Orange with styles that would make them uncomfortable only to come up short in the end.
It certainly wasn’t pretty last night. Even after the ‘Cuse went on a 26-0 run, the Bulls were able to cut the 13-point lead down back down to three before SU closed it out. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t impressive, though. All season, South Florida has played like snails. In all of Division I, only 11 teams play slower than USF, but only 26 teams are more efficient on defense. Unlike Rick Pitino, whose team ventured away from its normal style in trying to limit possessions last week, Stan Heath’s team has been playing this way all season long. While it can be aggravating to watch, that formula is what has led USF to ten Big East wins and shouting distance of its first tournament bid since the early 90’s.
Last night, the Bulls took a long trip up to New York and built a big lead early (13 points is closer to 20 for an average-paced team) by executing their game plan very well, milking the clock on one end and blocking off the paint at the other. USF also became the latest team to outrebound the Orange, but that’s hardly news, because as has been the case this whole time, it still wasn’t enough. Once the Bulls stopped hitting shots, Syracuse got its offense rolling thanks to a more dependable Scoop Jardine and the Orange held on to get its 28th win of the season.
While the Orange like to push the ball and force action at both ends, the team has proven – several times, now – that it can win against any style thrown at them. If you want to run with Syracuse, go ahead (Marquette, Providence and DePaul). If you want to slow it down and do your best Big Ten impression (Cincinnati, West Virginia, and now USF), you may have some early success, but even though Notre Dame pulled it off for a whole game, more times than not, the Orange will do what it takes to get the upper hand and ultimately prevail.
I still think that a physical, slower team could be the kind that does the Orange in come tournament time, but in the meantime, this team is meeting all comers and brushing them aside one by one. The home stretch of the season may make you want to pull your hair out at times, but there’s also the chance these nailbiters turn the final outcome into something truly special.