In a way, it’s appropriate that the lightning rod of discussion surrounding SU’s early departure from the NCAA Tournament on Sunday involves Scoop Jardine, the team’s most polarizing player. In a tie game, inbounding the ball out of a timeout with less than a minute left, Dion Waiters passed to Jardine, who left his feet to catch the ball, and came down with one foot on the midcourt line. The referee blew his whistle for an over-and-back violation, but there was one issue: it wasn’t over-and-back; not because Jardine’s foot was on the line, but because on inbounds plays, when a player leaves his feet to catch the pass, the positioning of the player’s feet is irrelevant, provided they’re both in bounds (NCAA Rulebook – Rule 4, Section 3, Article 8):
After a jump ball or during a throw-in, the player in his/her frontcourt, who makes the initial touch on the ball while both feet are off the playing court, may be the first to secure control of the ball and land with one or both feet in the back court. It makes no difference if the first foot down was in the front court or back court.
Now, there are plenty of things that went wrong for Syracuse, and we’ll get to them very soon, but this was a turning point in the game. It gave Marquette an extra possession, and after a Darius Johnson-Odom three and four free throws, it was lights out at Quicken Loans Arena. Referees are constantly under the microscope, but they are paid to know the rules of the game and enforce them by the book. Judgment calls like blocking vs. charging are one thing; to fail to grasp a game situation and apply the correct ruling is more reprehensible. However, you can’t go back and replay the game from that point on, and SU’s next possession, where Jardine hurried a three-point shot vindicated those who believe the call wouldn’t have made a difference, but it’s definitely worth pointing out. There have been several controversial calls this season, but if the close scrutiny gives way to a sea change in the way officials are handled, then I’m ultimately a happy camper.
With that out of the way, officiating was far from the only factor that decided the game’s outcome. The Orange committed 18 turnovers, did a very poor job on the defensive glass and Rick Jackson was rendered innocuous by Buzz Williams’ back line in a way reminiscent of the loss to Louisville. The Orange didn’t have an answer for Marquette’s pressure defense, though the great efforts from Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph shone through.
As for Jardine, his roller-coaster career continues. Even after the Orange got the ball back following Johnson-Odom’s three, Jardine rushed a three-pointer with the shot clock turned off and 19 seconds left in the game. While Scoop has had his moments, his status as the team’s lead point guard has been a product of necessity as much as his ability, with the Orange bereft of backcourt depth.
We may be seven months from Midnight Madness, but the guard rotation is something to keep an eye on next season with the addition of Michael Carter-Williams and Trevor Cooney. While it will rightfully be an uphill battle for the freshmen to get playing time, I’ll just say that I won’t be disappointed if Carter-Williams or Brandon Triche made a serious push next fall. Carter-Williams is a score-first guard, but has dished out plenty of assists in his senior year, and I feel that Triche’s methodical style would suit him well as a facilitator while remaining a deep threat. Dion Waiters, who led SU with 18 points against Marquette, will also return, and has the potential to be one of the best scoring guards in the Big East as a sophomore, which is saying a lot.
The days of Jim Boeheim putting all his eggs in the Scoop Jardine basket may be numbered, though I’ll hold out a faint glimmer of hope that Sunday’s game forces him to put a greater emphasis on ball security and decision-making in his senior season. Dependable point guard play is one of the biggest indicators of NCAA Tournament success, and that’s why Syracuse wasn’t expected to go very deep by the more learned experts. I feel this season was only a slight disappointment relative to expectations back in October, but a disappointment nonetheless. If you had told me Syracuse would receive a three-seed despite losing Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku and Wes Johnson, I would’ve had a hard time believing you. At the same time, it’s acceptable for expectations to change throughout the season as the team’s strengths and weaknesses emerge and we learn more about the state of college basketball as a whole in a given season. In that light, it’s a letdown that the Orange were knocked out before they got to Newark.
In addition, the fact that SU was eliminated by a fellow Big East team partially softens the blow. There’s no doubt that the Orange underachieved in the tournament, as did many Big East teams, but the season had its share of highlights, and we saw just how crazy elimination settings can be. We’ll talk more in the coming days about what went right and what went wrong over the course of the season, and what we can do to align our expectations closer to what’s realistic.