Down goes Cuse
Syracuse is 1-2 against the city of Philadelphia this season and undefeated against everyone else. The good news? No more games against teams from Philly until at least the Big East Tournament. So that's nice.
SU lost Saturday thanks to a number of factors, most of which have and will continue to be discussed. For starters, SU didn't foul up 3 in the final seconds allowing Ryan Arcidiacono to hit a miracle shot and force overtime. At this point it's not even an argument of whether that's sound strategy as the numbers scream that it is. Jim Boeheim agrees, so why didn't he?
The reason is there wasn't really a spot to. Villanova got the ball up the court, took a terrible shot, missed and then got the offensive rebound. If you're going to make the foul argument, that would've been the spot to do it - before the Cats were able to get the ball back out. You'd never coach your team to do that though, so it would have taken an individual player taking that initiative and in that spot that's an absurd thing to ask. Instead you play defense and hope for the best. Arcidiacono hit an incredibly difficult shot. It happens.
Where Boeheim is perhaps more at fault is how he handled his rotation down the stretch that resulted in Baye Moussa-Keita and Jerami Grant being unavailable in the final minutes after fouling out. There's a school of thought that says "they're going to play a certain number of minutes, so let em play" and that's basically what Boeheim did. I'm in the other camp. See how long you can go without them and then when it's crunch time, come in for the save.
The result was Brandon Triche playing the back line and a severe lack of size that killed the Orange. While Triche is smart enough and big enough in terms of bulk to play down low, he can't protect the rim like the wings in SU's zone need to. Villanova had a few baskets right over the 6'4" guard. It mattered. A "solution" I thought of at the time and eventually threw out on Twitter yesterday was putting Michael Carter-Williams on the wing. MCW's nearly 6'7" and his length would have been an upgrade over Triche.
The downsides though are plentiful and it's why I waffle on whether it would have actually been better. Carter-Williams would have been bullied, as Triche is massively stronger despite the lack of height. He's also excellent at the top of the zone and his ball pressure is a lot to give up. Last but not least, Triche is a four-year starter who knows the zone inside and out. There's a great chance MCW would've screwed up a few rotations. Triche was at least in the right spot every time.
The other obvious solution would have been Dajuan Coleman. The frosh has gotten the authentic highly recruited freshman treatment from Jim Boeheim like Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas before him - start, play until you screw up 30 seconds in and sit on the bench for basically the rest of the game. Literally as I'm typing this, I (and everyone else who's ever covered SU) got an email saying Coleman's having knee surgery so maybe he wasn't an option after all but the larger problem still remains. For as awesome as the zone is, it's limiting in what you can do with a lineup.
All of the other problems people scream about with Boeheim's 2-3 only mentality don't bother me. SU plays the 2-3 so well and morphs it so many ways, that they can cover a hot shooter. In late game situations, you might not be able to "lock down" on the guy with the ball, but you've eliminated so many plays that only work against man-to-man it's at least even if not an advantage for SU. That said, the option not to play 3 guards drives me insane. Last year, a lineup with Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters could've put up some serious numbers and caused other coaches nightmares. It barely ever happened because of the defensive implications meaning one of your best players always had to be on the bench.
This season's team breaks down differently as Trevor Cooney has been a massive disappointment. He'll have a fine career (I think), but it's been quite frankly astonishing how pathetic he's been shooting considering in warm-ups he can't miss. He can't play game speeds yet.
James Southerland's return is, in a word, necessary. Boeheim has no problem playing 6 guys and at this point that's all he's got. Cooney's sole purpose is to give MCW and Triche a blow. Christmas, Moussa-Keita, C.J. Fair, Grant, Triche and Carter-Williams are the only guys that should see regular minutes. Winning a title with 6 guys isn't impossible but it's unlikely because if one guy gets in foul trouble you're in deep doo doo. If two are stuck, Saturday happens. With Southerland available, I'm not writing any of this.
You can't fault Boeheim for a lack of depth either. An eight man rotation is ideal and if Cooney doesn't flop and Southerland is eligible, that's what he's got thanks to Grant's stellar play. Outside of Coleman, there's not really another guy on the roster who you realistically wish got more run. The problem with Coleman is playing him moves Rak Christmas to a wing where he's dramatically worse as a defender or to the bench where he's...well...on the bench. Playing those two together slaughters your floor spacing on offense as well as both are useless outside the paint. Again, Southerland coming back solves all problems.
Down goes Rondo
The NBA world was shocked when we all found out Rajon Rondo is out for the year with a torn ACL. Immediately the "blow up the Celtics" talk began and I just don't know how realistic that is. Tomorrow I'll be doing a podcast so I'll save the bulk of my thoughts for that, but the question here to ponder is what was the goal of the Celtics this season? Did they really think they could win a title or did they want to stay relevant? Whatever that answer is frames the rest of the conversation.
Up go the Lakers
I reserve the right to change my mind by the end of the week, but I actually think this Lakers thing is going to work. I said in a previous post that if the Lakers played pickup ball they'd be better off than Mike D'Antoni's stupid system. Turns out, that's basically what they've done. The biggest question remaining is will Kobe be happy playing distributer.
To quote Bryant: "We finally beat a team that's worth a s---" so he knows that playing that way works. J.A. Adande had a fascinating read on how every single one of the Lakers stars has changed how they've played their entire careers to make things work in the past week. To maintain that will be very difficult. When you've been successful, changing from what got you there is damn near impossible. However if the Lakers keep winning, this can work. Maybe I'm overreacting to two games, but I'll say the Lakers make the playoffs. The reason - if they keep playing, it's not a question of whether or not it will work. It will. The only question is will they continue to do it? To be determined…