Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Orange Rollercoaster

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t figure this team out. Another inconsistent road loss at Villanova in the regular season finale only adds to the confusion. Grant it, yesterday’s loss snapped a 5-game winning streak that all but guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance and also secured yet another 20-win season, but by no means were they dominant throughout that stretch and yesterday brought back a few question marks.

First off, I have sung the praises of Demetrius Nichols over the past few weeks. The leading scorer in the Big East most of the year finally showed signs of stepping up and being the go-to guy in key spots and assuming the senior leadership role. A dominant second half performance and career high 37 points against St. Johns, then two huge buckets down in crunch time to weather a UConn storm and lead the Orange to another win, and of course the game winner against Providence on the road last weekend. Nichols was stepping up when the team needed him. Any team with plans on winning in March needs at least one player like this (see Gerry McNamara circa 2006).

Just the type of player the coach turns to when momentum shifts to the opponent in the second half and a 10-point lead becomes a 6-point deficit. Call a play for “The Man”. But Nichols was nowhere to be found, a non-existent 2-13 shooting performance marred with a number of bad off-balance 3’s. Not to mention a missed foul shot after the ref’s tried to give ‘Cuse a gift at the end of the game. If the Orange want to make any run in the Big East tournament and, dare I say, win a game in the NCAA’s, Nichols has to be more assertive and come to play every game. If his shot is off he can’t just fade into the background though. Whether its driving to the basket and getting the line, or setting up his teammates, Nichols has to be active on offense.

It would be wrong to put everything on Nichols though, and it would also be wrong to mark the game as a total failure. Eric Devendorf played a phenomenal, under control game. Boeheim should just show him tapes of this game every time he decides to start hoisting away. Devo took it the rack, showed great body control, made good decisions, kept his emotions in check, and hit some HUGE shots.

This game was almost the anti-thesis of the winning streak. Nichols pulled a disappearing act, Andy Rautins couldn’t throw it in the ocean, and, the one player that usually gives me nightmares when he has the ball, Eric Devendorf, was the only guy who I wanted to see with the ball.

Without even touching on the play inside, which left something to be desired defensively as Sumpter and Cunningham put up some numbers against the zone, but the guards MUST show up ready to play and make shots if this team plans on making any noise. Standing around hoping Nichols hits a big shot or watching Devondorf run a one-man offense will not get it done.

The 2007 final exam starts Wednesday at The Garden. Only time will tell if this Syracuse team will pass or fail.


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