#3/4 Syracuse 60, Cincinnati 53: Two Straight Losses and the Sky is Still Intact

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It’s appropriate to talk about what happened last night first. The casual observer will see the final score and think that this was a ho-hum win for a very good Syracuse team that simply took care of business against an unranked Bearcats squad on the road. Don’t get me wrong, the Orange are an excellent team that, if you remember, was only two days removed from being undefeated and the #1 team in all the land. Individually they are one of the most talented groups in all of college basketball loaded with four and five-star players. For instance, their second leading scorer Dion Waiters doesn’t even start for them. He comes off the bench and still puts up amazing numbers like the rest of the team. So yea, they’re pretty darn good.

Despite the final score anyone who actually watched the game could see that Cincinnati led most of the first half and actually built a solid lead after halftime:


College Basketball

The Bearcats actually didn’t allow a made three-pointer until about 10 minutes left to play. I’m going to mark that point when Scoop Jardine nailed that dagger when UC started to unravel. On offense, the key for the Bearcats to beat Syracuse was to patiently move the ball around the perimeter to create an overflow to one side of the Orange’s zone. At the right moment, UC would move the ball inside to Gates/Jackson/Mbodj on the ‘weakside’ of the zone or find a perimeter shooter open for an easy three. This worked for three-quarters of the game but sloppy ball handling under the basket left points on the board and horrible free throw shooting couldn’t capitalize on easy fouls. Another problem is that it takes a lot of patience to break the zone, especially one that Syracuse runs so efficiently. So when the Orange started to build a lead late in the second half, UC simply didn’t have the luxury of patiently breaking their defense down. They needed points quickly which caused them to force shots and play right into Cuse’s hands.

The defense by and large played extremely well. Syracuse averages 79 points per game and the Bearcats held them to 60 and, like I mentioned, was again stout against the three-ball not allowing one from the Orange until 10 minutes or so left in the game. At team that averages 6.5 made threes per game only nailed 3 last night. UC also did a great job of not allowing Syracuse to have extra possessions off rebounds. Yancy Gates dominated down low and lead all players with 9 defensive rebounds followed closely by Sean Kilpatrick who had 7. So the beat goes on for the Bearcats defense that once again played extremely well and dictated the flow of the game.

When the dust cleared it’s easy to be disappointed by the loss especially on UC’s first Big Monday experience in the Big East in front of a sold-out crowd that was spectacular from the opening tip. But if you step back the Bearcats went punch-for-punch with one of the best teams in the country and came up just a little bit short. Two or three years ago, that would have never been the case. Mick Cronin has built a program that plays hard in a great system and expects to win every night regardless of the talent on the other end of the court. The past two losses sting but going 3 – 2 in a five-game stretch that featured games against perennial powers such as Georgetown, Nova, UConn, WVU, and Cuse is very encouraging.

Now that the team has a chance to rest and in some cases rehabilitate, we as fans can now look at the what faces this team in the coming games. This Saturday they travel to Rutgers and face a much improved Scarlet Knight squad followed by a visit from DePaul a week later. Those two weeks should allow this team to lick their wounds and get back to their winning ways. At 15 – 5 and 5 – 3 in the Big East with arguably the toughest portion of their schedule behind them, things are looking up for this squad.