MBB : Three points to continuing SU’s 1st-half success

first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Production from SU’s freshmen centersFab Melo admitted it after a breakout performance against Cincinnati last Saturday. This season, the transition to NCAA Division I basketball has been tougher than he expected.‘Yes, yes, a lot,’ Melo said. ‘A lot. With all the hype that I had coming in here, I didn’t ask for it. It just happened. I thought it’d be easier.’Past the hype, past the unreal expectations for a center billed as Syracuse’s next great ‘Melo,’ there is the reality. Despite starting all 19 games for the Orange thus far at center, Melo has been the center of disappointment on an SU team that has still managed to start 18-1.Along with fellow freshman and backup center Baye Moussa Keita, the first-year tandem has combined to create nothing more than a large hole at the center position. Through the first half of the season, the two have accounted for 4.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game between them.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMelo and Moussa Keita need to start making plays, both in SU’s offensive sets and in its 2-3 zone, in order for SU to be successful come NCAA Tournament time.The play of recent NCAA championship big men displays the importance of contributions from the center position. Duke’s Brian Zoubek provided 31 minutes while scoring eight points and grabbing 10 rebounds last year. Tyler Hansbrough dominated two years ago for North Carolina. In Florida’s two-year run, Al Horford and Joakim Noah controlled the paint.Melo and Moussa Keita don’t need to dominate with Rick Jackson and his All-Big East start to the season flanking them. But they do need to contribute for SU to be successful in a rugged Big East and in the NCAA Tournament.Simply enough, Melo needs to play like he did against Cincinnati Saturday and against Cornell on Nov. 30. Melo’s second half against the Bearcats gave SU head coach Jim Boeheim reason for hope.‘He was playing,’ Boeheim said, when asked what Melo did differently in that second half. ‘Everything. He did everything differently.’Six points, four rebounds, four blocks. Melo was heavily involved, especially on defense, and helped get the Orange out to a 16-0 run to start the half. He did so without getting into any foul trouble too, another problem that has plagued SU’s centers so far.Melo’s expectations from the beginning of the season have died down, but a consistently solid contribution will go a long away. And he knows it.‘Coach told me I need to get big in the paint,’ Melo said Saturday. ‘Block shots. Blocked shots are the thing I do best, and I haven’t been doing that. Today, I felt comfortable on defense.’bplogiur@syr.edu Brandon Triche’s steady playWhen Brandon Triche moved from point guard to playing off the ball this season, it was natural for questions to arise. How would he handle the transition? Could he shoot the ball well enough to be effective? Could he find a different niche?The answer to that question is becoming clearer with each and every game.Triche averaged just eight points per game in Syracuse’s first nine games of the season, with only one game in double figures. Since then, the sophomore guard has scored at least 11 points in eight of 10 games, while averaging 12 points per game.Triche is also doing it at a very efficient rate. In the 10 games since going 1-for-7 against Michigan State on Dec. 7, Triche has shot 55 percent from the field, including 45 percent from 3-point range. He’s becoming the consistent perimeter shooter SU lacked in the early going.‘He’s a good shooter, he’s a very good shooter,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said.  ‘He gets good shots, so he just has to relax, and he’ll make them.’Perhaps the most impressive part of Triche’s efficiency is that it is coming against some of the toughest teams on SU’s schedule — Big East teams. Syracuse may not have gotten past Seton Hall without Triche scoring 15 second-half points. He was equally important in a win over St. John’s four days later at Madison Square Garden.Freshman guard Dion Waiters was expected to push Triche for minutes in the backcourt once he got his feet wet and began to play up to his potential. Though Waiters is playing better, Triche isn’t seeing his minutes decrease in the slightest.Instead, the combination of Triche, Waiters and point guard Scoop Jardine is a very formidable three-guard rotation in the SU backcourt. Triche’s shooting and scoring ability keeps defenses from hesitating to double down on Rick Jackson when he gets the ball in the post.‘He’s been playing well for us all year,’ SU forward James Southerland said following a win over Cincinnati on Jan. 15. ‘When he’s playing at a high level, he gives us another weapon on offense.’It’s becoming more and more evident that for the Orange to reach its highest goals, Triche must continue to play at a high level. His ability to play either guard position gives Boeheim a number of options to work with.Syracuse will need his best if it wants to contend for a national title.aljohn@syr.eduHealth of key playersHere’s reality: Syracuse was in the absolute worst situation any 2010-11 college basketball team could have put itself in Monday. No team this year has experienced a deficit near 19-0 in the environment Syracuse was in … only to claw back from it.The Orange was playing against one of the best teams in the country in Pittsburgh. The game was played in the Big East’s Zoo, in an atmosphere that froze Syracuse’s clockwork offense in its tracks.And the Orange was down 19 points without Kris Joseph.‘Obviously he is a big part of our team, and we certainly missed him tonight,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said.In the end, SU fell short. And it was because SU was without one of its three indispensables in Joseph — Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson being the others.With an injury to any of those three, SU loses one of its greatest assets. Forget SU’s depth. Syracuse’s big three spur the depth. That trio wasn’t whole for the first time all year on Monday. Keeping Joseph, Jardine and Jackson healthy is not only a key. It is a must.If SU learned anything last year, it was that without one of its big three, a string of tournament wins isn’t likely. Last year, it was Arinze Onuaku who went down with an injury, leading to Syracuse’s earlier-than-anticipated exit in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.The effect of Joseph’s injury was amplified by the crazed Oakland Zoo environment Monday. Sure, Syracuse showed mettle. Maybe the most mettle any college team has shown all year.But in those first eight minutes, sans Joseph, SU lacked the veteran will and mindset to execute in hostile territory. After eight minutes, Jardine started SU’s run back into the game by undertaking that certain mindset, hitting a contested 3 and giving the Orange its first points of the game. But it is too much of a role for him and Jackson to undertake.Syracuse did come back to tie the game with 13 minutes to go. Confidence surfaced in the face of near impossibility. But the Orange couldn’t finish because it didn’t have the veteran scoring mindset to get off to a good start.And even though Boeheim said the obvious postgame on Monday, he would rather not have SU experience life without Joseph any longer.‘You just have to play with what you have,’ he said. ‘Nothing you can do about that.’aolivero@syr.edu Published on January 18, 2011 at 12:00 pmlast_img

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