Saturday’s 107-59 romp over DePaul may not have taught us a lot about Syracuse, but it did show what the Orange can do when they’re well-rested, motivated, and have momentum on their side, not to mention a little luck and a very bad team in the other locker room. Over the last two weeks, a debate emerged over whether playing three games in 12 days would lead to a slowdown, and we got a resounding “no” as the Orange staved off Georgetown and lead by gaudy margin after gaudy margin on Saturday. The layoff gave many players on the team a chance to get healthier, and the comfortable disparity SU enjoyed all game afforded a little extra time – no one for the Orange played more than 27 minutes. It also gave way to opportunities for SU’s reserves, some of whom hadn’t seen extended playing time since November. Mookie Jones got in the mix; Fab Melo scored ten points, culminating in a smooth jumper from the elbow. Closer to the front of the bench, James Southerland displayed his athleticism, and with impressive drives and leaping ability, CJ Fair showed that his ankle injury is behind him. Baye Moussa Keita also had a productive stint, chipping in four points and seven boards. The last five or so minutes gave us a brief a look into SU basketball’s future, with Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine taking in a certain win from the bench.
After St. John’s lost to Seton Hall Thursday night, a window was opened in the form of a shot at the double-bye in the Big East Tournament. Motivation is always nice, especially against a bad opponent like DePaul. Players can fall into the trap of looking past an unimpressive game to a more important one looming in the near future, and despite what the records imply about double-bye teams in the Big East Tournament*, you’d be hard pressed to find a player or coach who wouldn’t want one. Win the final game, and you’re cruising to your home away from home, Madison Square Garden, with an extra day to do some sightseeing. Lose, and not only are you playing earlier, but you’re stewing on an unsightly defeat for a few days.
*The 7-6 record of Big East Tournament teams with double-byes is slightly misleading – in a tournament setting, every team, except one, loses at some point. Additionally, byes inherently limit the number of possible games a team can play compared to the rest of the field, and subsequently limit the number of possible wins. The fact that double-bye teams have won both conference tournaments since the system was installed before the 2008-09 season tells us that it’s an advantage to not have to play as many games as the rest of the field.
Recently, it was discussed whether SU was starting to peak. At the time, part of me thought the post may have been a little premature. In the Big East, the depth of the conference can inhibit prolonged winning streaks, and just when you’ve beaten a top-ten opponent to give you a boost, one can knock you back down three days later, and there’s rarely a lot of time in which to regroup. While DePaul is a team that can cure all ills, SU winning four in a row coming into Saturday may have also played a role in the game being such a breeze.
Still, the Orange can’t get too high after this one. Even against a bad team, it’s not normal to shoot 70%, outrebound your opponent by 19, and it isn’t normal for Scoop Jardine to dish out eight assists without committing a single turnover. In a matchup that ends as the most lopsided game in the history of the conference, not only do you need one very good team against an awful one, but a little luck is required as well. All in all, Saturday’s game ended the regular season campaign on a great note, and it made for a memorable send-off to Rick Jackson. Now comes the most exciting time of the season, and momentum is with the Orange, owners of the longest current winning streak in the conference.