Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Legend of Jermaine Sardine

Among the many community involvement opportunities for the Syracuse basketball team is the annual Hoops for Hope dinner with the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Orange players sign autographs and eat dinner with kids from the area clubs, before a question and answer session with coach Jim Boeheim.

One of the kids at this past October's dinner exclaimed that his favorite Orange player was... Jermaine Sardine. An alter-ego was born for senior guard Scoop Jardine, whom the youngster must've meant.

Jardine agreed with me early in the season that the presence of Jermaine Sardine would be a good way to explain away his every-so-often head-scratching plays that punctuate his otherwise superb handling of the ball and the Cuse offense.

By Jardine's own admission, his bad side has made a couple of NCAA tournament appearances. Sardine had just two points and four turnovers in the first half of the Kansas State game, before Jardine came through with 14 points and five assists in the second half of a 75-59 win.

Ol' Jermaine made it to Boston too. It looked like he may have been wearing the #11 jersey when a last-shot scenario instead turned into an easy basket and momentum swing for Wisconsin Thursday night.

"Before halftime, I turned it over and got lit up in the locker room. That was Sardine," Jardine said.

That was Jardine's only turnover in a 14-point, four-assist performance that earned a 64-63 win and an Elite 8 appearance against Ohio State tonight. The Orange will be best served if Jermaine Sardine remains benched and Scoop Jardine shows from start to finish the form that made him second-team all-Big East this season.

He'll be matched up in part with Buckeye sophomore and Big Ten defensive player of the year Aaron Craft tonight.

"Aaron Craft is the best defensive guard in the country," Jardine said. "I've always thought about playing him. It's a huge opportunity."

A win gets Jardine and his teammates to the program's fifth Final Four. A loss ends an incredible season after 34 wins.

"This is my best season ever. It could've stopped (Thursday)," Jardine said. "I'm proud of these guys and what they overcame."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Boeheim and Ryan Enjoy Mutual Admiration

When you've been around as long and won as many games as Jim Boeheim and his Wisconsin counterpart Bo Ryan have been, you're bound to have some common connections.

With 1540 combined wins, they run in similar circles.

"Bo sits right behind me at the Final Four every year, so we always talk about the games in progress," Boeheim said. "We've had a relationship for a long period of time. I've watched Wisconsin play over the years and he's a great coach."

Both coaches credited Boeheim's wife, Juli, for sharing candy among the group at Final Four games.

Ryan attended Wilkes University in the 1960s, about the same time Boeheim was playing for Scranton in the Eastern Basketball League. Ryan said he would occasionally trek to Syracuse for entertainment on the weekends.

"Jim's been good for the game behind the scenes, a lot with Coaches vs. Cancer and other charities," Ryan said. "He's got a lot to be proud of in this profession."

Boeheim and Ryan both sit on the board of the National Association of Basketball Coaches but their teams have never faced each other on the court.

Boehiem owns 47 NCAA wins, tied with UCLA legend John Wooden for fifth most. Ryan has 16 in addition to four NCAA Division III national championships at UW-Platteville.

Syracuse meets Wisconsin Thursday at 7:15 in the Sweet 16.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Opponent Snapshot: Wisconsin

Qualification: At-large. 4-seed in East. Advanced with wins over Montana (73-49, Thu.) and Vanderbilt (60-57, Sat.).
RPI: 23. Strength of Schedule: 16. 4-7 vs. RPI top 25, 20-2 outside of that. Two defeats by Iowa defeats are the only losses to come to a team that didn't make the tournament.
Season Review: 26-9/12-6 Big Ten. Seven of nine losses were to ranked teams. Only losses in 12-2 start were back-to-back at North Carolina and against Marquette No shame in that. Dropped three straight near start of conference schedule. Beaten three times by Michigan St., split with Ohio St., swept Indiana.
Common Opponents w/Syracuse: Crushed Colgate (68-41, Nov. 16) and lost to Marquette (61-54, Dec. 3). Syracuse was 2-0 against the Raiders and Golden Eagles.
Key Players: 6-1 SR PG Jordan Taylor averages 14.7 points and 4.0 assists per game. He's been among the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio for three seasons, actually dropping off a bit this year to 2.6:1. 6-6 JR F Ryan Evans (11.1 p/g) and 6-10 JR F/C Jared Berggren (10.3 p/g) are the only other players averaging double figures.
Coach: Bo Ryan. 268-100, .728 in 11 seasons at Wisconsin, 28 years overall. One of the game's most highly respected and consistent coaches. Won four Div. III national championships at UW-Platteville.
NCAA History: 25-16, 16-10 under Ryan. In Sweet16 for second straight year and sixth time beginning with 2000.

  • Defense, defense and defense. Stingiest team in America, allowing just 52.8 points per game. Wisconsin ranks 8th in field goal percentage defense (42.5) and 7th in 3pt defense (29.0). In 19 games starting Jan. 8, only Michigan St. (69, Feb. 16) and Iowa (67, Feb. 23) have scored more than 63 points against the Badgers.

  • One of the ways Wisconsin keeps the opponent from scoring is holding onto the ball. They turn it over nine times per game, second best in the nation.

  • See above. Wisconsin isn't in a hurry and generally doesn't fill it up. Wisconsin went six weeks without scoring 70, but has in three of its past four games. They've averaged 64.1 points per game.

  • Wisconsin ranks 214th of 338 shooting 42.5% from the floor.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Opponent Snapshot: Kansas St.

Qualification: At-large.
RPI: 45. Strength of Schedule: 55. 3-4 vs. RPI top 25, 3-3 vs. RPI 26-50. 15 of 21 wins vs. RPI 100+.
Season Review: 22-10/10-8 Big XII. Advanced after a The Wildcats have lost five times (7-5) since Jan. 28, but all to teams that made the tournament. Kansas State's strongest regular season statements were wins at Baylor (57-56, Feb. 18) and a home-and-home sweep of Missouri, who was highly thought of all year before getting upset by Norfolk State in its tourney opener.
Common Opponents w/Syracuse: Beat George Washington (69-56) at home Dec. 1. Won at Virginia Tech (69-61) Dec. 4. Lost to West Virginia (85-80, 2 OT) in Wichita Dec. 8. Syracuse beat all three of those teams.
Key Players: 6-4 JR G Rodney McGruder played at Archbishop Carroll and with the D.C. Assault alongside SU's Kris Joseph. His 30 points Thursday led the Wildcats to a win and doubled his season scoring average.

Jim Boeheim on McGruder: "He's a tremendous player. Those kind of guys are
always difficult to play against."

6-11/250 JR F Jordan Henriquez flirted with a triple-double in game one (15 pts, 9 reb, 6 blk).
Coach: Frank Martin, once a police officer and high school coach in Miami, cut his coaching teeth as an assistant to Bob Huggins and took over the K-State head job when Huggins left for West Virginia four years ago.
NCAA History: 33-29 including Thursday's 70-64 win of Southern Miss. Four Final Fours, but the last was in 1964. Four Sweet 16s, including 2010 when the Orange were also in Salt Lake City.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

They didn't ask for it, but the Orange are in a similar position to their experience at this time in 2010, when Arinze Onuaku was unavailable to a top-seeded team in the NCAAs.

Onuaku was injured in Syracuse's Big East Championship quarterfinal against Georgetown and did not play as SU beat Vermont and Gonzaga in Buffalo, before losing to Butler in the Sweet 16 at Salt Lake City.

Fab Melo, who has started every game this season but three in January, will not play for the Orange in the NCAA Tournament due to eligibility issues.

Unlike their only regular season loss Jan. 21, when it looked as though some players were stunned by the absence of Melo's interior presence, this one has been possible to prepare for.

"Right here, we knew this," senior guard Scoop Jardine said. "He missed games early in the season, so this is a little different. We've got to move forward from it. We can't look back on it."

Melo did not practice with the team Tuesday before it left for Pittsburgh, where the Orange (31-2) will meet 16-seed UNC Asheville (24-9) Thursday at 3:00.

"I think the different then was we didn't have as much depth," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "We really were playing seven players that year and it was fine because they had multiple positions."

Then, Rick Jackson, move to center and sixth-man Kris Joseph assumed a large role. This year, freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Keita will likely get more time. Christmas came up large with two points and give rebounds two games ago in a win over Connecticut. Keita has played 10 minutes in a game only once in the past month.

Boeheim hinted other adjustments, even playing Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters all at the same time, could be explored. "During the course of the game, I wouldn't rule anything out. That's not a primary thought, but I wouldn't rule it out," he said.

Biedenbach on Boeheim & Bing

I referred to UNC Asheville's Eddie Biedenbach as "the longtime coach of the Bulldogs" today, before he interrupted me to point out that his 16 years at the school were a "walk in the park" compared to Jim Boeheim's 36 at Syracuse.

Biedenbach grew up in Syracuse before starring at North Carolina State in the '60s. He was two-time all-ACC before playing just seven NBA games with the Phoenix Suns and heading into coaching.

"I remember Jimmy coming to play at N.C. State in the regionals with Bing," Biedenbach said.

Dave Bing averaged 28.4 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game for a the 1965-66 Orange that played in the NCAA East Region in Raleigh. The Orange beat Davidson and lost to Duke in the last games the roommates would play together.

"I always admired Dave Bing, one of the greatest players to every play the game. I got to watch (N.C. State all-American) David Thompson and Michael Jordan, very comparable to Dave Bing."

"Jimmy was a great player at Syracuse and he and I have been friends a long, long time."

Biedenbach was an assistant at his alma mater in the 1970s before getting his first head job at Davidson. Another Boeheim friend now Texas coach, Rick Barnes, Wake Forest's Jeff Bzdelik and current Davidson leader Bob McKillop were all among Biedenbach's early hires.

Syracuse has played UNC Asheville three times before, twice since Biedenbach has been there, and won all three.

All-time vs. UNC Asheville
12/28/03 W 81-63
11/15/97 W 60-57
11/30/91 W 83-68

"We had a couple really, really good games with them in the past," Boeheim said. "I was kind of afraid to schedule them anymore because I was afraid Eddie might come in there and beat us."

Follow me on Twitter @MattPark1.


The official traveling party of the top-seeded Orange made its way to a Pittsburgh hotel today without starting center Fab Melo, who has been left behind due to eligibility issues.

Melo did not practice with the team before the departure, giving his teammates more time to be adjusted to his absence than they may have had when the 7-0 sophomore from Brazil was held off the South Bend-Cincinnati trip in January.

Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters still boarded with their customary fist bumps that have been a part of every road trip as the nation’s second-ranked team has gone 12-2 away from the Carrier Dome this year.

Melo averaged 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game this season and was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Rebounding, which has been issue this year often overcome by Syracuse’s ability to turn opponents over, may be an even more key battleground in this tournament.

The Orange open NCAA play Thursday at 3:10 against Big South champion UNC Asheville, a team that has outrebounded nine of its past 10 opponents, despite not playing a regular taller than 6-5.

A breakdown of this season’s games where Syracuse has been outrebounded by 10 or more:
Game REB Gap Result
12/6 vs. Marshall 13 W, 62-56
1/16 vs. Pittsburgh 12 W, 71-63
1/21 @ Notre Dame 13 L, 56-67
1/28 vs. West Virginia 19 W, 63-61
2/8 vs. Georgetown 17 W, 64-61, OT
2/13 @ Louisville 13 W, 52-51
2/22 vs. South Florida 10 W, 56-48
3/8 BEC Connecticut 12 W, 58-55

  • SU is 7-1 this season in games getting outrebounded by 10 or more, 6-0 with Melo, 1-1 without.

  • The loss and all but two of those wins came against teams in the tournament.

  • The Orange have had a different leading scorer in each of the past five games in which they’ve been badly outrebounded.
Coach Jim Boeheim said Sunday night that he will continue to start sophomore forward C.J. Fair, as he did in Melo’s first absence and the Big East tournament. Freshman Rakeem Christmas played center in all of those games.

Follow me on Twitter @MattPark1.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gameday Information: Thursday

Time - Approx. 3:10. Syracuse-UNC Asheville will follow Kansas St.-Southern Miss, which starts at 12:40. Remember, games are a little longer during the tournament.
Broadcasts - Matt Roe and I will be on the air with Syracuse Gameday (locally on ESPN Radio 97.7 and TK99) at 1:30. Orange Pregame takes over the whole Syracuse IMG Sports Network at 2:30. The game will be nationally televised by TruTV. Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller will be on the call.
Venue - Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The building is new and capacity is around 19,000. Duquesne University is the event host.

Scouting Report: UNC Asheville

A team that plays a little 2-3 zone and wants to score in transition. Where have we heard that before? Although Syracuse and UNC Asheville are separated by geography, conference prestige and pedigree, it looks as though their styles of play may bring them together.

Strengths -

  • Experience: Typical of a power at that level, the Bulldogs have played a lot together. They start four seniors and a junior. All them played in last year's NCAA, actually beating Arkansas-Little Rock before losing to Pittsburgh 71-47.

  • Confidence: This team has won back-to-back conference championships and has walked the ubiquitous NCAA-blue carpet before. They may not have the athletes, but shouldn't be intimidated by the moment.

  • Offense: The Bulldogs scored 81.2 points per game this season, fifth best in NCAA. Asheville is 8th nationally in assists per game and, 15th in field goal percentage.

  • Free Throw Shooting: The Bulldogs shoot 76.2% as a team, 15th best. Top scorers Matt Dickey (86.5%) and J.P. Primm (83.8%) ar in Brandon Triche range. Asheville has made 668 free throws this season. Its opponents have shot 671.
Weakness -

  • Size: Starting lineup is 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and will be towered over by Syracuse. Asheville's only players taller don't play much. They lost a 6-10 center, D.J. Cunningham to an off-season ACL injury.
Matchup - This may be a refreshing surprise for Syracuse fans turned off by the slow-down tactics of recent Orange opponents, including Cincinnati, who have often simply cycled the ball through the first half of the shot clock. Asheville, like Syracuse, aims for transition offense and thrives off its ability to force turnovers.

North Carolina and Missouri may be the only teams that excel in the open floor like the Orange. Syracuse would love to play that style of game and may find it as a kick starter for an offense that has been a bit out of whack lately.

For more, check out our Google Hangout today at noon and follow me on Twitter @MattPark1.

Opponent Snapshot: UNC Asheville

Qualification: Big South Conference champion (2nd straight).
RPI: 103. 0-5 vs. RPI top 100.
Season Review: 24-9, won Big South Conference championship for second straight year. Lost to North Carolina, Connecticut, Ohio and North Carolina St., all of whom made the field. Highest-RPI win was over USC-Upstate (RPI 139). Went 19-2 against Big South teams.
Key Players: 6-1 SR G Matt Dickey was MVP of the Big South tournament and averaged 16.5 points per game for the year. Five Bulldogs average in double figures.
Coach: Eddie Biedenbach, a former NC State player, is in his 16th year at Asheville with a 240-232 record there. Biedenbach grew up in Pittsburgh, where Thursday's game will be played.
NCAA History: Eliminated by Pittsburgh, 71-47, after beating UALR in the Dayton opening round. Also won in the opening round in 2003 before losing to Texas, who Syracuse beat in the national semifinal.
Series with SU: SU leads 3-0. Last: 12/28/03 in the Dome, SU won 81-63.
Useless Nugget(s):

  • Asheville, in North Carolina's western mountains, is known as "Seattle of the South". People like coffee and grunge music there.

  • FR G Keith Hornsby's father, Bruce, was the lead of Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Keith's range: 15-41, 36.6%.

  • Asheville technically became the first team this year to clinch to a postseason birth, by clinching the Big South Conference regular season title Feb. 11 with a win over Radford. All regular season conference champions are promised at least an NIT berth.

What to Watch For

As always, and Orange All Access will have you covered throughout the postseason.


  • We expect to be in the team locker room at the Carmelo Anthony Basketball Center. You'll see the first reactions of coach Jim Boeheim and players.

  • I'll post a snapshot of SU's first round opponent here as soon as I can.

  • Ticket information will be on tonight. Short version: the school gets precious few tickets, about 350. Around 10% of those are set aside for students, the rest will be up for grabs staring first with Orange Club donors at a level of at least $5,000.

  • You can expect the tipoff time of SU's first game to be released late tonight or early tomorrow. CBS and Turner can't make those calls until the brackets are set.


  • We'll be trying our first Google Hangout at noon Monday. I'll field your questions and comments about the tournament. More information is available on the Orange Nation page.


  • Assuming, the Orange start in Pittsburgh (or any other Thursday/Saturday site), there will be a practice open to the public at the game arena. Syracuse is among the most fun teams to watch in this scenario as they have put on a show for their may fans and have a more serious practice elsewhere.

  • Matt Roe and I will cover the open practice and press conferences and file a preview on Orange All Access.


  • Our usual gameday coverage will include the radio pregame at least 90 minutes prior to tipoff and a postgame call-in show on ESPN Radio 97.7 and TK99 in Syracuse and many other great stations throughout the state (Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, New York).


  • I'll be Tweeting as news and thoughts come up @MattPark1.

Resume Complete

Happy Selection Sunday, a virtual holiday on the sports calendar. It's also judgment day for college basketball teams, with nothing more they can do to improve their presentations to the NCAA tournament selection committee.

The #2 Orange (31-2) are hardly nervous job seekers at this point. For the first time in school history, they've been in the top 5 throughout the year and ESPN's Joe Lunardi has placed them as a number one seed from his very first bracket projections in November. Barring a major shock from the panel, Syracuse will be placed as a number one seed in the East region. The Orange were previously top seeds in 2010 and 1980.

Here are some of the tools used to make sense of seeding the field of 68.

RPI - The Ratings Percentage Index is a function of a team's record (25%), its opponents' record (50%) and its opponents' opponents' record (25%) with some adjustment to add value to road and neutral court wins. As you'd expect, there's almost no variation among the sources for this:

Computer Rankings - Although MIT was ranked highly in Division III this year, its primary impact on college basketball is inspiring various number crunchers. These computer rankings are widely thought to be better predictors of game outcomes than anything else in black and white.
On-Court Performance - Again, the Orange will be on footing as solid as anyone in the game at this point:

  • 31-2, already the most wins in a whole season in program history

  • 17-1 and regular season champions of the Big East by three games

  • 9-1 in in road games, including wins at tourney-bound Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati and North Carolina St.

  • 3-1 on neutral courts (although all of those were at friendly Madison Square Garden)

  • 4-0 vs. RPI top 25, 7-2 vs. RPI 26-50, 6-0 vs. RPI 51-100, 14-0 vs. RPI >100. A typical 16-seed, could have an RPI over 200. SU was 5-0 against those teams.

  • To win the title, you need to be able to win six straight games against good-to-great competition. The Orange have winning streaks of 20 and 11 this season.

  • Against Lunardi's guess at the field, SU is 13-2 with the losses coming to qualifiers Notre Dame and Cincinnati.

  • Last 10 games: 9-1

  • Among the nation's top five in scoring margin, turnover margin, assist-to-turnover ratio, blocks per game and steals per game.

Eye Test - The Orange will get checkmarks here too in a couple of the indicators that are most important for basketball people. NCAA champions almost always have future NBA players, which Syracuse does. Size and athleticism may be the biggest separation between power schools and the so-called mid-majors. Again, Syracuse will hold its ground in this category.

For more during the NCAAs, you can follow me on Twitter @MattPark1.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Greetings from MSG

Just checking in quickly from New York. I'm looking forward to keeping Orange Nation engaged throughout what could be a great postseason.

When the top-seeded Cuse meets UConn at noon today, it'll be the most often played Big East Championship series. Syracuse leads 7-6 and the teams have met in six of the past eight tournaments.

They have combined for 12 Big East tournament titles. The Orange have won five, most recently in 2005 & 2006. Connecticut has taken seven and, counting last year's win, has won seven straight games in the event.

More to come. Follow me on Twitter @MattPark1.