Round Of 32 Wrap-Up
There’s a ton of storylines to sort through in the wake of Syracuse’s win over Kansas State that propelled them to their third Sweet 16 in four seasons. After a whirlwind few days of college hoops, we get to decompress and look forward to Saturday’s game with Wisconsin, but we have all week for that. Onward to some notes!
- As you probably recall, Jamar Samuels was a late scratch from the game due to an eligibility issue which was later revealed to be an accepted wire transfer of $200 from his AAU team’s founder. The absence of the Wildcats’ leading rebounder partially allowed Rakeem Christmas to have a career game, but I’ll have more on that in a bit. The decision to hold Samuels out of the game came from Athletic Director John Currie, and if you watched head coach Frank Martin’s postgame press conference, he became very emotional when asked about the situation and it was also easy to see that he was not the least bit happy with Currie’s decision. It’s easy to watch Martin scream his face off during games and come to the conclusion that his intensity is a little much, and that may be true, as he’s seen some players transfer away. But then he shows the kind of emotion he displayed in his locker room, and you see how hard he defends his players. While it’s rarely reported, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that other players get away with more egregious violations; In fact, I almost expect that it happens way more often than we hear about. That’s not to excuse Samuels from any blame here. This couldn’t have come at a worse time, and his eligibility may have been the difference between Kansas State winning and losing. Alas, we’ll never know.
- The Orange were pounded on the defensive glass, as expected, but K-State’s failure to capitalize on second chances really set them back. The back line of SU zone did a better job as the game went on, especially once Syracuse woke up. During SU’s 21-3 run, the Wildcats picked up five offensive rebounds, but three of them came on the same sequence, and even then, Kansas State didn’t score on those extra opportunities. In the second half, Syracuse shot so well that despite its size, the rebounding gap didn’t really emerge as a big factor, but instead was more of a footnote.
- Christmas, on the other hand, was definitely a factor, and in a big way, chipping in eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Even without Samuels, Kansas State still had a long and bulky frontcourt, so to see him have this kind of success was great to see. It’s tough to build confidence and get into a rhythm when you have as short a leash as Christmas had before the Fab Melo news came along, but he certainly didn’t play like a freshman Saturday. Christmas topped Melo’s career high in rebounds while posting Melo’s season averages in points and blocks. That doesn’t mean I think Christmas is better than Melo – it’s important to remember Samuels’ absence and Jordan Henriquez’s foul trouble in the second half, but I do think it’s a piece of evidence to combat the perception that Melo’s loss tanked the Orange’s chances of a deep run. Simply put, they play different styles of defense, and both have helped Syracuse tremendously at different points in the season – Melo succeeds in blocking shots and taking charges, while Christmas crashes the glass more often, but can still swat the ball with the best of them. As Christmas’ saw more and more bench time, it became easy for some to forget that he was the best center in his recruiting class not named Anthony Davis.
- Scoop Jardine continued his streak of hot and cold halves, but again delivered when the team needed it most. Jardine shot 1-5 from the floor in the two first halves of the weekend, but 7-11 after halftime. He had a hand in nearly every possession of SU’s backbreaking run in the second half and even snagged a few boards of his own. It takes Scoop some time to see what teams are trying to get him to do, but he’ll make adjustments and never lets his mistakes get in his head, no matter how high they pile up. As the competition increases, though, so will the necessity of Jardine stringing together consecutive strong halves increases.
- One player who hasn’t had much inconsistency to speak of has been James Southerland, who is a scorching 11-14 from the field in the tournament and 5-7 from deep. Additionally, many of those threes have been absolutely demoralizing for Asheville and Kansas State. He’s given the team a huge lift with C.J. Fair struggling to get rolling. I’ve been pumping Fair all season, so to see him have this kind of tournament has been tough, but the team’s depth remains one of the biggest storylines. I’m not convinced that both of them have to be effective for Syracuse to go deep since they’re rarely on the floor together, but I’d feel better about SU’s chances of Fair returned to midseason form this weekend. This is way down the line, but next season’s battle to determine who gets Kris Joseph’s starting spot could be very interesting, especially if Southerland keeps the hot hand and puts in rebounding numbers comparable to what Fair has produced. Tangentially, I think one of Jim Boeheim’s most redeeming qualities is that he’s not married to one player over another at a given position as long as he has the depth – whoever plays well will stay in the game, and as easy as it looks to him and us to make that call, that’s not always the case.
- This doesn’t have much to do with the game itself, but I will say that it was a relief to see Syracuse’s win start the weekend. It made it that much easier to simply sit back and enjoy the rest of the action knowing that the team’s spot on Saturday was guaranteed. As the round of 32 rained upsets, I would have been on pins and needles if the Orange had played later. Now, I enjoy the sport enough that I’ll watch just about any game, but getting Syracuse early on Saturday just made the rest of the weekend more enjoyable. Of course, I’d probably be singing a different tune if the Orange lost, but fortunately, that will remain a hypothetical.