Sports

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pitarresi: SU in Final Four? That's a longshot right now

Sports Illustrated, in its Dec. 29 issue, says that Syracuse University proved it is a Final Four caliber team with its 72-65 victory over Memphis Dec. 20.

 

Maybe.

 

Wait till the middle of January. We’ll know then – at Georgetown Jan. 14, Notre Dame Jan. 17, at Pittsburgh Jan. 19, Louisville Jan. 25.

 

SU is very talented. Final Four? I don’t think so, but it is possible. The Orange have a heck of a lot of work to do before then.

 

Here is something good for Syracuse. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones will return to the football team next fall. Jones is one of the better linemen in the country. His presence will make a difference for new coach Doug Marrone.

 

 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pitarresi: SU scores a significant win

Syracuse University’s 72-65 basketball win over Memphis tonight didn’t shock me, but it did surprise me a little.

 

This is SU’s most significant victory of the season, certainly bigger than those over Florida, Kansas or Virginia.

 

On the road against a good team with no Eric Devendorf? And after they had some less than stellar outings even in going 10-1 before tonight? With Jonny Flynn less than 100 percent? This is a signature win. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it shows growth and maturity, qualities the Orange will need in Big East battles.

 

SU did it while being outrebounded by nine and making just 12 of 26 free throws, which is the one caveat here. The Orange have to improve in those areas, but still, this can be a big building block.

  

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pitarresi: Devendorf must get the message

So, more than likely, Eric Devendorf will miss two to six games, then be back with the Syracuse University basketball team.

 

That’s good for the Orange. He is an extremely important player for SU. I hope it is good for Devendorf. Like many young men, he needs more discipline. We’ll probably never know the full truth of the incident that got him suspended in the first place, and I feel badly for the young woman he is accused of hitting. Maybe you can hit a woman if she is wielding a weapon. Otherwise, you just can’t. You can’t.

 

Whatever happened, I don’t think Devendorf is a bad guy. Rough around the edges? Way too excitable? Undisciplined? Bad decision maker? Yes. But I’ve never had a bad moment with him, and I love his fearless style and like the way he plays his butt off every second.

 

Does that excuse bad, even dangerous behavior? Certainly not. It starts with this – 3 a.m. and, quite possibly, alcohol. Not good. Bad decision making.

 

Part of Devendorf’s punishment is 40 hours of community service. I hope that service involves real physical labor or having to help out elderly, disadvantaged or handicapped people. A reality check is in order – we all need one now and then – and maybe that will get the message across to him.

 

On SU football:

 

Did new head coach Doug Marrone make a good choice in picking Rob Spence as his offensive coordinator?

 

Depending on who you check with, Spence is either brilliant or an stuck-in-the-mud, predictable play caller. We’ll see. To me, a good play is a play that works. A bad play is a play that doesn’t work. Much of the time, there are a lot of plays will work … if you have good players. I would loved to have been the offensive coordinator at SU in 1998 – Donovan McNabb, Kevin Johnson, Rob Konrad, three drafted or free agent offensive linemen. I would not have wanted to be the offensive coordinator this season, with one terrific running back – Curtis Brinkley – few other options and only sporadically good work from the other skill players.

 

Spence will be a good offensive coordinator if SU can recruit well the next couple of years and if a big stable of young running backs and a developing offensive line are as good as they shown shown in flashes.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pitarresi: Amazing! Cheating in women's college golf

 

What is the world coming to?

 

That question has been asked regularly for several thousand years, and it never gets answered. You have to wonder, though, when Coastal Carolina University gets nailed with two years of probation because of financial infractions by a former women’s golf coach. Well, the school’s Web site says it is committed to building a nationally-ranked program. Maybe they really are serious about it.

 

Syracuse University’s matter-of-fact basketball victory over Canisius didn’t make coach Jim Boeheim happy. He still thinks his team isn’t playing well. I agreed the other day, and I agree again. The Orange are very talented, but the gears aren’t quite meshing. Boeheim keeps harping on turnovers, shooting and rebounding, and he’s right. There is something missing there.

 

On Canisius:

 

Few fans outside of Western New York remember when the Golden Griffins were a national program in the 1950s and 1960s, but they were. Now, they’re just another mid-major. However, they have some athletes on that team, and some big kids. Elton Frazier and Greg Logins can fly, point guard Frank Turner is very quick, Rishawn Johnson is 6-feet-6 and 275 pounds, and Chris Gadley is 6-9 and – get this! – 320 pounds!

 

However, the Griffs are a poor shooting team – 23 of 73 against SU, 4 of 22 on 3-pointers – and they tossed up a great many air balls last night. Also, they never seemed to try to control the clock, something they had to do against SU. They should be better than 3-7.

 

We’ll learn more about SU when the Orange play Memphis Saturday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pitarresi: Orange have long way to go

It strikes me that Jim Boeheim doesn’t become overly excited when he wins, but gets a little too morose when he loses.

However, he was right when he said after Monday’s 72-69 loss to Cleveland State that his Syracuse University basketball team won’t win a game in the Big East playing the way they did against the Vikings.

As talented as the Orange are, they can’t play half a game and win against good teams time after time. They’ve gotten away with it several times this season, but not against the very quick, very gritty Vikings Monday.

Cedric Jackson’s miracle last-second, 72-foot shot aside, Cleveland State outworked the Orange most of the way. That will happen, but there are some statistical, season-long hints at some weaknesses Boeheim has to address before the Big East schedule begins when Seton Hall visits the Carrier Dome Dec. 30.

SU’s rebounding is ordinary (40.0 per game vs. 34.5), the team assist-to-turnover ratio is only marginally good (186-160), the 3-point shooting is poor (31 percent), and foul-shooting is just okay (67 percent). SU ranks ninth in the Big East in rebounding margin, seventh in turnover margin, 10th in 3-point shooting and eighth in foul shooting.

Luckily for the Orange, opponents are shooting horribly (40 percent), especially on 3-pointers (29 percent), which could be attributed in part to the SU defense, although I’m not sure how much defense is being played on free throws. Opponents are making just 59 percent. That’s pure luck.

Much of SU’s season statistical advantage was accumulated in one-sided wins over LeMoyne, Oakland, Colgate and Long Beach State. The victories over Florida, Kansas, Virginia and even Cornell were hard-earned. Credit the players with toughness and resiliency in coming back to win those games, but none of those teams rank with the top eight in the Big East.

This is a very talented team, but Boeheim is right. It has to get quite a bit better to get where it wants to go. And if Eric Devendorf is indeed suspended for his late-night encounter with a female student in November – he must file an appeal to an already-handed down suspension by 5 p.m. Wednesday and that will be ruled on by Jan. 12 at the latest – the Orange backcourt will be some combination of Jonny Flynn, Andy Rautins and Paul Harris. Harris can play guard if he has to, but I’ll guarantee you Boeheim doesn’t want him there for 20 or 30 minutes a game.

The battle has just begun.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pitarresi: Marrone is the guy, maybe

How much drama can you stand?

 

Skip Holtz? Turner Gill? Doug Marrone? Amos Alonzo Stagg, maybe?

 

Who is going to be the next Syracuse University football coach?

 

Not Skip Holtz. He took himself out of the running.

 

I’d bet Turner Gill would like to be, but that probably isn’t going to happen.

 

Stagg – Yale graduate, member of the first All-America team in 1889, a pioneering coach who spent 60 on the sidelines and also played in the first public basketball game at Springfield College in 1892 for those of you who don’t know – has been in gridiron heaven for more than 40 years.

 

As this is being written, at 11 p.m. Thursday, it seems Marrone, a former SU player and now the offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, is the guy. At least some of the sources reporting that Marrone will be hired have proved wrong about this very question in the last few days, but when the NFL Network reported that Saints coach Sean Payton was “ecstatic” that Marrone is going to SU, that more or less convinced me.

 

If the NFL Network has its ducks in a row. They were wrong about Holtz, although it’s possible they had good reason to say he had the job before the deal fell through. But SU AD Dr. Daryl Gross more or less swore that hadn’t offered the job to anyone as of 7:24 p.m. today.

 

Can Marrone do the job? Silly question. Who the heck knows? Who knew Pete Carroll could do the job at USC? Who knew Bobby Stoops could do the job at Oklahoma? For that matter, who knew Knute Rockne could do the job at Notre Dame? No one knows if Marrone can do the job, and while there will be hints early on, no one will know for sure for two or three years at the very least.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pitarresi: Devendorf suspension a big negative

Oh, man, now Eric Devendorf is really in big trouble.

 

Syracuse University’s judicial board has recommended that the junior guard be suspended until the end of the academic year – May, 2009 – after he was accused of punching a woman student in November.

 

A lot of people have taken Devendorf’s side in this and say the woman is lying. Maybe, but why? And if he did hit a woman, man, you just can’t do that.

 

Devendorf is appealing, which means he’ll keep playing for a while.

 

I don’t know the truth of the situation. I just wish athletes would not put themselves in position to be accused. The Duke lacrosse players are a prime example. They eventually were cleared of rape charges after being dragged through the mud, but they wouldn’t have had to worry about it if they hadn’t dipped their toes in the goop in the first place. Boys will be boys? Yeah, but you must have a sense of responsibility.

 

There is no telling what impact a Devendorf suspension would have on the team, but I’ll guarantee you SU will miss him in big way. He is the team’s second best player, sometimes its best player. He can shoot it, he can take it to the hole, he hits the open man. He’s a pretty complete player and he plays his butt off.

I expect the Orange to be 16-0 or 15-1 by the time they visit Georgetown Jan. 14. If Devendorf isn’t there, that game and the rest of the season will be much more challenging.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pitarresi: Turner Gill could be the guy

Who is going to be the next Syracuse University football coach?

 

I’m asked that nearly every day.

 

In truth, I have no idea. And, in truth, because of a lot of other responsibilities, I haven’t been working hard on trying to find out. I do know a number of coaches have been interviewed, and some can’t be interviewed yet because they are still playing.

 

I’ll say this, the people digging into this very hard don’t know, either, because I’m sure SU athletic director Daryl Gross doesn’t know. Not yet, anyway.

 

Because of a tip I got long ago, I thought Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly would be a good pick, but he’s now been named Mike Bellotti’s heir apparent with the Ducks, so he’s out. There are any number of other candidates, and the situation is complicated by the fact that there are or will be a lot of openings.

 

However, I think Buffalo’s Turner Gill, who has been in the picture for a while, might well be the guy. He has done a great job with the Bulls, he now has great credibility after winning over previously undefeated  Ball State in the MAC championship game, and even if he didn’t want to leave Western New York he has to because SU can about quadruple his salary.

 

So, right now, if you ask me, the answer is Turner Gill.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pitarresi: Cornell-SU a good one

Jim Boeheim would kill me if he knew, but knowing him, maybe not. He sometimes likes to stick the knife into his own team.

 

I was kind of rooting for Cornell to beat Boeheim’s Syracuse Orangement tonight.

 

Why? I love underdogs, and it would have been a great lesson for SU. I don’t know if the Orange took the Big Red lightly, but certainly Cornell played better than expected, with a particularly huge game from Ryan Wittman, son of former Indiana star Randy Wittman, who hit nine 3-pointers and scored 33 points.

 

It wasn’t just Wittman who gave the Orange fits, however, as Cornell built a big early lead and held on for a five-point halftime edge before giving way midway through the second half. Cornell, which didn’t have its top two guards available, shot the lights out from long distance, but also played well-discplined, tough basketball. It was terrific to watch. They are the defending Ivy League champions, not a Big East team, but they gave SU plenty of genuine trouble.

 

That’s good for them, good for the Orange, and good for basketball fans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pitarresi: Rautins has developed into valuable player

Andy Rautins had a strange line in Syracuse University’s 86-51 basketball victory over Colgate Monday.

 

Rautins, known for his shooting, was 0 fof 5 from the field and 0 for 4 on 3-pointers. Not good.

 

But Rautins also had six assists against two turnovers, and a couple of those passes were beauties. I also thought he had a couple of steals, although it doesn’t say so on the state sheet.

 

The point is this. Rautins, who a lot of people felt could not play at SU’s level when he came out of Jamesville-DeWitt High School, can do more than just shoot, and he has to. Rautins is a good passer, and it annoys me when people say he isn’t a good defensive player. I think against a lot of teams he is pretty good, certainly as good as most of his teammates.

 

Rautins obviously has gotten bigger and stronger after being out a year with an injured knee, and he obviously has benefited from a high level of competition with the Canadian National team. He might have gotten his chance because he is the son of former Orange star Leo Rautins, but he doesnt' get his playing time because of that. He can play, and he is a valuable member of a very strong team.