Monday, November 14, 2011

Syracuse 92, Manhattan 56

[recap] [box score]

Something sort of unique about the college basketball non-conference schedule is that it has its share of mismatches. Monday night in the Carrier Dome was one such game.

When faced with the daunting task of playing a heavily favored team, the coach of the underdog has a choice of which strategy to employ. He can craft a game plan carefully calculated to give his team the best possible chance it has to slay Goliath. Or he can treat the game like a practice or preseason scrimmage, having his charges play the same way they would against a lesser opponent.

Manhattan coach Steve Masiello chose the second option. His team pushed the tempo on offense and pressed on defense. They also got run out of the gym by the much more talented Orange.

It wasn't necessarily a bad decision. This is Masiello's first season as head coach, and as a Rick Pitino disciple, his relatively young team has a new playing style to learn. So it makes a certain kind of sense to use this as an opportunity to practice under game conditions. It just makes it hard for outsiders to evaluate his team. So Jaspers fans shouldn't worry too much about this loss. All it showed is that Syracuse has better basketball players than Manhattan. That's not a s surprise.

Syracuse fans, on the other hand, have plenty to be excited about. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep, which is as long a bench as I can ever remember Jim Boeheim having at his disposal. Kris Joseph and Brandon Triche appear to have embraced their roles as veteran leaders of the team. Fab Melo, more or less a bust as a freshman, has slimmed down and is ready to be a factor on defense and on the glass. James Southerland appears to be more than just a shooter. Dion Waiters showed that he can be the primary ballhandler on the second unit, should Boeheim continue to play Triche and Scoop Jardine in the starting backcourt.

Ah, Jardine. You'll quickly learn that I'm not a fan of his due to his questionable decision-making, both in shot selection and with the ball. He got the quick hook two minutes in to the game against Manhattan, leaving in favor of C.J. Fair after he had a weak layup attempt blocked and squandered a 2-on-1 break by whipping a behind-the-back bounce pass out-of-bounds. He played 15 mostly ineffective minutes.

It's only one game, and so take the following to be true only if Jardine continues to be hot and cold. If he continues to be inconsistent, Boeheim will find himself with some difficult decisions to make. Jardine is too talented to bench outright. He's too much of a loose cannon to entrust the second unit to. And Triche is too valuable to not start.

With Melo apparently starting to live up to his potential, Syracuse has legitimate title hopes. Jardine has the ability to strengthen those hopes, but he is also capable of sabotaging them single-handedly. The Orange season could well end up in his hands, and I'm not sure how comfortable 'cuse fans would be with that.

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