For most of the fan base the thought of anything but a Final Four was out of the question for a team, who started in the Top 5 this year in the polls, stayed there all season long, including a six week stretch where they were No. 1, that seemed to find a way to overcome anything, be it on the field or off of it. But after having watched the East’s top seed Syracuse (34-3 ~ 14-2 in the Big East) play as well as they could against No. 2 Ohio State (31-7 ~ 13-5 in the Big Ten) in the Elite Eight in Boston, MA., losing 77 to 70, ending their run one game shy of that goal is nothing to be ashamed of. For head coach Jim Boeheim’s squad this might have been the first time in the tournament that they truly felt the absence of their seven footer, Fab Melo, as it seemed that the Buckeyes were able to control the paint for most of the game, especially when OSU’s All-American Jared Sullinger was in the game. So from Bean Town it will be back to the Salt City instead of the Big Easy for a team that overcame much this record setting season and fell one game short of a season long goal.
“This game,” said SU guard Brandon Triche, “we could have used Fab. The games before, without a dominant center, it would have been easier. If we played anybody else (tonight), it would have been easier. I think Fab would have gave us the edge.”
Before I go on with the game itself let me take a minute about the discussion of the referees, which has been a “barn burner” one from my twitter feed, to many local web sites to even my email. There is no doubt that the zebras in this game were more of a factor than they should have been, as the best refs are the ones that no one talks about after the game. There is no way you can say that about this trio, who called 49 fouls in all of which 29 against SU, that T’ed coach Boeheim, his first all season long, for coming out of the coaching box and then, and when sophomore guard Dion Waiters got his fourth, the coach turned and screamed at Jeff Hathaway, the NCAA selection committee head man, who was seated at the scorer’s table near the SU bench. With about a dozen minutes left the Orange had a trio of players with four fouls: Waiters, Rakeem Christmas and James Southerland. Eventually, Waiters and Southerland both fouled out. After the game someone asked the SU coach about the refs, his reply was simply…
But I think that there is more than just missing the Brazilian sophomore center and the refereeing in this match up. The Orange didn’t get much as far as fast break points, something that seemed to have been a trademark of theirs and a way to begin a run or spurt during most games. Without that it felt like SU was not able to get into a rhythm in the half court game and began to take ill advised shots due to lack of patience in their offensive sets. Waiters, who usually comes off the bench to give a spark to the SU offense could not do much, ending up 2 for 8, while senior Kris Joseph, who did not play well for most of the tourney, was once again off in this one, going 4 for 11. But the whole team was not in the proverbial “zone”, as this team missed at least eight lay up like shots, several more short jumpers just outside of the paint, and just didn’t look like the squad we have come to watch for close to five months.
Having watched this team play for most of the 37 games this season I can’t remember when both Joseph and Waiters had truly off nights, 6 for 19 type nights. Today they did, adding to that the fact that Melo was not in the middle, and you can see why a team like Syracuse, who seemed destined for the Final Four, did not make it past Ohio State. The reality is that the one achille’s heel that this team had, rebounding, was exposed tonight once again, and this time in a way that Syracuse could not find a way to compensate for it. The Orange were beaten on the boards 39 to 26 and 14 to 8 on the offensive side. Without the fast break points the team usually gets, without winning the battles of TOs, and without being able to overwhelm the opposition from beyond the arc Syracuse could not find a way to take this game tonight. Something to consider, against one of the most defensive minded teams like Wisconsin, Syracuse had just six turnovers, last night the Orange committed 11 of them.
And so it ends, a season that for the second time in three years has a top seed Syracuse go into the NCAA Tournament without their man in the middle, where you will not see Joseph or point guard Scoop Jardine back donning the Orange , who was named All-East region team along with three OSU players and a Wisconsin one. Maybe the team fell short of the Final Four goal but there is no way anyone can say that this team fell short of a great season. Furthermore, with the returning players and the incoming ones, coach Boeheim and his coaching staff has a great future ahead of them. The loss stings, and will for a while, but Syracuse basketball is not just a season long and the legacy of both the program and its head coach keeps getting better and better. Congrats to the entire staff and players for a season that made the fan base dream!