Syracuse wraps up stellar regular season; more Snap Judgments
Here's a quick roundup of Saturday's slate of college hoops:
At this point, it's pretty clear cut that the Orange are the nation's best team this side of Kentucky, and it's probably not all that close.
Syracuse can be downright stifling defensively. Against Louisville, the Orange held the Cardinals to 2-of-23 shooting and, once again, making the Cardinals look like a high school junior varsity team offensively.
The obvious issue with Syracuse is defensive rebounding. For a team with the front line size that Syracuse has to routinely get beaten up on the offensive glass is troublesome. But as long as it is blocking shots around the rim and forcing turnovers that lead to fast breaks, second chance points become less of a concern.
The beauty of this Syracuse team is that despite all of the talent it has, there are no egos. Who is scoring and who is playing crunch-time minutes is irrelevant as long as the Orange are winning games. How many teams in the country would a) have Dion Waiters and CJ Fair coming off the bench and b) have Dion Waiters and CJ Fair perfectly fine coming off the bench? Not many -- I don't think it's a stretch to say none.
The unity of this group can be summed up in one quote from Scoop Jardine. The Syracuse point guard celebrated his Senior Night on Saturday and did so without scoring a single point. For some, that would be an issue. Not Jardine. "I'd rather go out like I did," he said, "having zero points and a big win against a Louisville team that we hardly beat throughout my years than to have 30 points and a loss. That's not who I am."
That's not who this team is, either.
I'm not sure that anyone in the country is playing as well as Jae Crowder is right now. He went for 26 points, 14 boards, five steals and three assists against Georgetown, meaning that in the last six games, he is now averaging 24.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.0 spg and 2.5 apg.
Georgetown certainly did not play its best game, but this is still a roster that has the pieces to make a run in March. The Hoyas are a very good defensive team thanks to the athleticism and versatility they have up and down their line up, but they are susceptible to a more physical team. Otto Porter and Greg Whittington are freshmen. Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson don't like contact. Jason Clark is a terrific basketball player, but he's not a natural point guard. Marquette personifies toughness, and it showed.
Thanks to two free throws from Tyler Brown with 6.4 seconds left -- and a pair of missed jumpers from Garrett Stutz and Toure' Murry -- the Redbirds were able to upset the Shockers and put the fear of a burst bubble into the hearts of every team currently sitting on the cutline. No. 25 Creighton ran through Evansville in the other semifinal, meaning that Illinois State will be taking the court on Sunday with a chance to win the MVC's automatic bid. Creighton is a lock for the tournament, meaning that the Bluejays just became the most popular team in the country. If they lose, an at-large bid disappears.
As far as Wichita State is concerned, its performance shouldn't be considered anything other than a by-product of the madness. The Shockers were the hottest team in the country coming in. They thoroughly dominated a competitive MVC and peaked at the end of the season. I'll chalk this loss up to Wichita's 34.9 percent shooting from the floor.
Memphis is one of the most underrated teams in the country right now. Because of its struggles early in the season and thanks to a conference that turned out to be underwhelming, Memphis has slid along under the national radar. Barton has had an All-America-caliber year, Jackson is playing some of his best basketball and guys like Witherspoon and Tarik Black seem to be finally living up to their talent level. And don't forget, Adonis Thomas -- who has been out for a month with an ankle injury -- might end up rejoining the team before the season is over.
Pierre Jackson had 35 points for the Bears in the loss, and while Perry Jones III had a double-double, he didn't get to the foul line a single time against a smaller ISU team. That says all you need to know about him as a player.
It should also be noted that this was a loss Washington probably could not afford in its quest to earn an at-large bid to the tournament.
This is a group with the talent to make the Sweet 16 but an NCAA profile that may end up keeping them out of the tournament.