The Syracuse basketball program (No. 12 in the AP poll and No. 13 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll) lost 73-69 Saturday afternoon to the No. 16/15 Louisville Cardinals in a Big East Conference contest at the KFC Yum! Center. The Cardinals (19-6, 8-4 Big East) netted just as many 3-point baskets than 2-pointers (13) on their way to a seventh consecutive victory over the Orange (20-6, 7-6). But that wasn’t the real story.
Nope, the real story of SU’s second straight loss — its sixth of the past eight — was how terrible the Orange looked in the game’s first 25 minutes. Yes, the 20-5 run in the final 14-plus minutes helped make it exciting, but the small-final margin is just a disguise that is trying to hide how badly Syracuse played on both offense and defense.
Leading 26-19 with 5:49 to go in the first half, the Orange seemed to be in control. However, in the next 8:24 of the game, the Cardinals went on an 32-6 run that concluded with Louisville leading 51-32 with about 17 minutes to go. During that span, Rick Pitino’s squad made Jim Boeheim’s squad look like a bunch of junior varsity players. Junior guard Kyle Kuric, who finished with a game-best 23 points, and senior guard Preston Knowles, who netted 22, including seven 3s, were left wide open and made basically every shot they attempted — this included a Knowles 40-foot 3-pointer that beat the first-half buzzer.
Offensively, the only thing SU had going was senior guard Scoop Jardine (12 points at the half, 21 overall) and that says a lot. Luckily for Syracuse, Louisville decided to quit attacking SU’s discombobulated 2-3 zone defense — led by junior forward Kris Joseph, who was in Boeheim’s dog house all day. Instead, the Cardinals played conservative and just ran down the clock. The Orange, who never did give up, rallied behind sophomore guard Brandon Triche, who scored a team-best 22 points. The Orange cut the deficit to 69-66 with 1:39 to go, but couldn’t make enough plays to complete, what could have been, an unbelievable comeback.
Most of my concern for SU doesn’t come from it’s play – however, it hasn't been good in the past eight games. The majority of my worries focus on Syracuse's identity. Is Syracuse morphing itself into a good team before the postseason? (This team, which is now relying on a lot of young players with no experience, is much different than at its peak in mid-January.) Or is this team headed in the wrong direction?
For the second straight game, senior forward Rick Jackson, who’s averaging a double-double per game, was nowhere to be found (seven points and seven rebounds). Joseph, who came into the matchup averaging 15 points per game, was also silent (nine points). It actually seems, Syracuse is getting younger and young as the season progresses -- at this point in the year, the opposite needs to happening. Not saying, I don’t like the looks of the future (Triche, C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Baye Moussa Keita could develop into studs), but that dynamic probably wont help Syracuse close out this season on a high note.