Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pitarresi: Troubled SU has company

Syracuse University’s basketball team is in trouble.


That’s obvious. Four losses in the last five games have left the Orange with a 5-4 record in the Big East, making Wednesday’s home game with West Virginia extremely important. A win would keep SU solidly in the top eight of the Big East. A loss would not be fatal, but it would drop the Orange into the second division with eight games to play, five against very tough teams.


But if things are going badly for SU, how do you Georgetown feels, or Notre Dame? The Hoyas have lost four in a row. The Irish have lost five in a row. Right now the only teams in the league that feel secure are Marquette, Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, the likely top four seeds for the league tournament March10-14 at Madison Square Garden.


There are enough games left that almost anything can happen, but I wouldn’t expect a complete collapse by the top four teams. That means SU, and Georgetown and Notre Dame, too, have to get in gear, or they are going to arrive in New York needing to two, three or four games to make the NCAA tournament.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pitarresi: Let's tone it down

This isn’t about Eric Devendorf, although he is central to the idea.


The other night, the Providence College fans gave the Syracuse University basketball guard the business in a big way during the Friars’ victory over the Orange.


One of the central themes to the catcalls was Devendorf’s suspension earlier this season for “allegedly” hitting or pushing a female student. Fair enough. Devendorf knows he is going to get roasted for that transgression every time he goes on the road. I don’t know if he is guilty of the accusation, but guilty of bad judgment in some way? Without question. Don’t put yourself in the situation. The kid already was a lightning rod because of his on-court demeanor – tattooed up, aggressive, mouthy, although not as mouthy as he once was – and the incident and suspension only made things worse. He made that bed, so fine.


The problem is the tone and nature of the catcalls, not just those directed at Devendorf, who I find to be a lot better personality than his image might suggest, but at players in general. Student sections at many college games have become mean-spirited and foul-mouthed way, way beyond the accepted bounds of civility. The students take pride in that. It can make attending or covering a game more than unpleasant. The stuff generally isn’t funny, and is often extremely politically incorrect and disrespectful.


The media sits right in front of the student section at SU games. I can tell you it is sometimes way too loud for older ears, but we can deal with that. Most of the time, believe it or not, if I am hearing things right, the students are tougher on their own players than on the opposition. Occasionally there is an inappropriate scream directed at an opposing player. I’d say, from what I hear, the SU students are in the minor leagues compared to a lot of crowds. I’m glad of that.


My point is, there is nothing wrong with cheering for your team or booing the opposition; the profane catcalls and personal attacks we can do without. Tiresome, boring, stupid, unattractive.


The two worst things that have happened to college sports and especially college basketball over the last 20 years or so are woofing on the court – which Devendorf and teammates Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris engage in way too much for my taste – and scurrilous language from fans. I’d be a lot happier if we got rid of both.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pitarresi: Injuries, turnovers ... SU in trouble

Hmmm. A starting lineup of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Rick Jackson, Kristof Ongenaet and Kris Joseph, with Paul Harris sitting on the bench and Arinze Onuaku only marginally available.


As we used to say, that’s a recipe for disaster.


That lineup could win a few games in the Big East, but not many, and it couldn’t win last night against Providence. Leaky defense, 21 turnovers and a hot-shooting Friars team did the Orange in. The loss dropped SU to 17-5 overall and 5-4 and eighth in the league. With Andy Rautins out with a bad ankle, Onuaku nursing a bad knee, Harris missing practice Monday and Tuesday for reasons that had nothing to do with an injury and coming off a series of bad games, I mean, good luck.


It only gets tougher for the Orange. Rautins and Onuaku are expected back at practice shortly, so that will help, but Harris has to get over whatever his bothering him – he did play 30 minutes last night but wasn’t much of a factor. West Virginia visits Wednesday for the first of four games in 11 days – at Villanova, at Connecticut and home against Georgetown. Challenging, you bet, but while this team continues to have problems, it also has a lot of talent.


I’m not going to tell you they’ll get it together in time to rescue an increasingly desperate season, but they have the ability to do so.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pitarresi: SU roster grows ever thinner

This season is beginning to look like last season for the Syracuse University basketball team.


In terms of manpower, anyway.


Last season, with Andy Rautins out all year and Eric Devendorf gone after the first 10 games, the Orange were a seven-man team. For the moment, with Rautins hurt again, Mookie Jones out for the season and Kristof Ongenaet pushed way to the back of the dog house, SU now looks like a six-man team – Devendorf, Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, and Kris Joseph.


Maybe it is a five-man team, because Joseph, a physically talented freshman, has had very little impact since the Big East portion of the season began. He just is not confident enough yet to be effective at that level.


Ongenaet’s exile to the bench is the result of his inability to score, his tendency to foul and just overall bad numbers. However, he is a honest, blue-collar player who does some good things and brings some fire to the enterprise. He’ll be needed tomorrow at Providence and against West Virginia next Wednesday.


You look at that lineup and you have to realize this is a perilous time for SU. The Orange were 16-1 and ranked 8th just last week. Now they’re 17-4, ranked 15th and looking at a very tough stretch run with a group that includes only three genuine forwards (Onuaku, Jackson and Ongenaet), a swingman (Harris) who has been average or worse in his last two games, two guards (Flynn and Devendorf) and a young kid who isn’t ready to play (Joseph).


Plus, Devendorf is the only reliable 3-point shooter available.


Tough times.   

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pitarresi: A sharper Flynn would help SU


They weren’t having any party in the Syracuse University’s basketball locker room this afternoon.


The Orange looked bad in losing 67-57 to Louisville, and the loss was made worse by the fact that it is the third in four games.


But the Big East is a meat grinder league. Look at Georgetown, which a couple of weeks ago I thought might have been the toughest if not the best team in the league. The Hoyas lost to Seton Hall today.


The Orange remain a very talented team with some holes in its game – again, rebounding and ball security are issues – and maybe a little chemistry problem, although trying to find out just what that might be is difficult to pinpoint. One thing that would make the team better is better command by Jonny Flynn. A couple of months ago, Flynn was one of the top few point guards in the nation and some scouts had him headed to the NBA, maybe as soon as next year. Neither of those things are true right now.


Although he’s just a sophomore, Flynn has played a ton of basketball. He has to be a little better leader, a little better shooter, a little better decision maker. That’s not to put it all on him. Every guy on the team can do many things better, but he is the quarterback and has been since the first day he stepped on the court last season. He can have an ordinary game now and then in terms of leadership, scoring and passing, but if he has a bad one, it is very difficult to SU to win.


Again, not to put too much on the kid. He’s playing 38, 39 minutes a game and working his butt off, but he has to be sharp.


Or maybe SU is a year away from a really big run.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pitarresi: Hamilton survives foul-shooting blues

Not many basketball teams can make just 10 of 26 free throws and win.


Hamilton College did tonight, downing Union in a Liberty League game, 72-56.


The Continentals survived that performance because the forced 22 turnovers – they use waves of players (10 players played at least 10 minutes tonight) – and because they made 12 of 25 3-pointers, which is a heck of a lot better than their 33 percent for the season.


In reality, Hamilton has several guys who probably should limit their long range shooting to desperate situations. They also have several who are aces, especially the injured Russ Rosenband (18 of 42, 43 percent), and fellow freshman Ephraim McDowell, who made seven of 12 attempts against the Dutchmen and now is 32 of 73 (43 percent) for the season.


McDowell is a skinny 5-foot-10, but he has a smooth lefthanded shot that he gets off quickly. He finds ways to get open without the ball, and his teammates get it to him. He was fun to watch tonight.


Hamilton, perennially strong on the court, is off to a great start, 4-0 in the league and 10-5 overall, but the Continentals need to get better at the foul line. They 181 of 276 (66 percent) this season, and they’ll have to get better if they want to win tight games down the stretch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pitarresi: Big East is a snake pit

Gee, for a while there I thought Georgetown was the best team in the Big East.


I guess I was wrong.


West Virginia made that so with its 75-58 victory over the Hoyas tonight, which only goes to prove that the league is one of the great snake pits of all time. The Mountaineers’ victory made something of a prophet of Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim, who said a couple of weeks ago he thought they were playing better than anyone else. Not to disagree with a Hall of Fame coach, but Marquette and Louisville are undefeated and Connecticut and have one loss. SU is 5-2, and so is, believe it or not, Providence. WVU is 3-2, but a strong 3-2.


The Hoyas? They’re tough, they’re gritty, but they also are 3-3 in the league. And so is Notre Dame. Villanova is 2-3.


Louisville probably is the hottest team in the league, which is why we should fully expect the Cardinals to get blasted by the Orange Sunday.


Really, the Big East is extremely volatile – kind of like the stock market before it tanked – and anyone who thinks they can predict what will happen day to day simply is wrong. And that’s great.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pitarresi: Farewell to Bud & The Manchild


One of my favorite radio personalities, Jim Lerch, host of the “Bud & The Manchild” sports-talk radio show on 620-WHEN in Syracuse, has been let go by Clear Channel Communications, Inc.. That means the six-year-old program, co-hosted by Syracuse Post-Standard sports columnist Bud Poliquin, has come to an end. Clear Channel reportedly cut 10 percent of its staff nationwide.


Lerch ran an interesting, upbeat show. I would disagree with him and Poliquin from time to time, sometimes vehemently, and they certainly disagreed with each other often enough, but it made for good listening. Since I cover Syracuse football and basketball and so did they in a very big way, it was always informative to hear what they and their listeners had to say about the Orange. I also liked Perry Noun, their golf guru, who knew his stuff and had an offbeat, genial delivery.


“Bud & The Manchild” is being replaced by a national show, of which we have too many. I have to laugh when I hear people say the nationally syndicated sports-talk shows are better than local. They aren’t, for three reasons – one, they can’t discuss local sports, you have little chance of getting a call in, and many of those guys a big blowhards talking through their hats because there is no way some guy sitting in Los Angeles can really know much about every pro league and college basketball and football.


I’ll miss the show. Its demise is a loss for Central New York sports fans. My best wishes and good luck to Jim Lerch. I hope he finds something very soon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pitarresi: Big East a dogfight all the way

If you’re trying to figure out which is the best basketball team in the Big East, good luck.

Syracuse’s 78-60 loss at Pittsburgh Monday was indicative of what the league is like. SU, coming off a big victory over Notre Dame, was playing a Pitt team that had been knocked out of the No. 1 stop by Louisville Saturday. So, what happens? The Panthers play hungry, the Orange play flat, and Pitt wins going away.

It looks like the top six or eight or even 10 teams in the league all can beat each other. It helps to be at home – the home team won all but one of the league games Saturday through Monday – and you have to play your best. SU did not do that at Pitt. The Orange shot poorly (41 percent), made poor decisions (14 turnovers), rebounded poorly (40 to 28) and generally didn’t look totally prepared.

I also thought the normally very tough Eric Devendorf had a very strange game. He took just four shots in 24 minutes, scored just five points and had four turnovers. And Jonny Flynn, despite 12 points and seven assists, had a very strange game, too. The numbers say otherwise, but he was not efficient.

Still, as Jim Boeheim said, SU is 17-3 overall and 5-2 in the league, which is better than most people expected,. However, the Orange, monumentally talented physically, have to be smarter on the court and mentally tougher. The Big East is going to be a dog fight all the way, through the league tourney at Madison Square Garden.

In other news, Michigan just announced that it has hired former Syracuse football coach Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Robinson will work under Rich Rodriguez, who he faced several times when Rodriguez was the head coach at West Virginia. Good luck to Greg, always a good guy in his four years at SU, no matter what you might have thought of him as a coach.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pitarresi: SU game plan works to perfection

I don’t often think of game plans when it comes to basketball.


Stupid me.


Jim Boeheim had one today and his Syracuse University Orange executed it very well on the way to an important Big East basketball victory over Notre Dame.


You could say the game came down to shooting. SU shot very well. Notre Dame didn’t. The Orange won, 93-74.


But that scenario was set up in part by the way the plan was laid out – attack Irish star Luke Harangody and 3-point shooting star Kyle McAlarney, too, and make them work very hard on defense with the idea it would take away from their offense. It might not have worked so well with McAlarney – a better all-around player in the flesh than the one you see on television – since he made 7 of 14 3-pointers - but it did with Harangody.


Harangody is a great offensive player. Boeheim said that over and over again after the game, and he’s right. He can score and he can rebound. He isn’t a great defensive player – not that there are too many of those in college basketball anyway – and the Orange tried to wear him out at that end. Arinze Onuaku did that by backing him down to the basket and scoring 12 first-half points, then forcing him out of his pet spots when he was on offense, making him take shots he doesn’t normally take and maybe force a few that he shouldn’t have taken.


Harangody, who chewed up the SU forwards in his last trip to the Carrier Dome in 2007, did haul in 16 rebounds and did have six assists. He also hit his average with 25 points, but it took him 28 shots to do that. The Orange did a lot of things right in this game, but that was the most important.


The win was extremely important for SU, not just because the Orange now are 5-1 in the Big East, but also in terms of confidence. This was a big game on a big stage – 30,021 fans – on national television. And it’s a great recovery after an ugly loss to Georgetown Wednesday. If it isn’t SU’s biggest win in the last three years, it’s close.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pitarresi: Tough to pick title games

My picks for the AFC and NFC championships?


Boy, that is hard.


I like Curt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, and I love underdogs. There aren’t many underdogs doggier than the Arizona Cardinals, who haven’t won a title since 1947, when they were the Chicago Cardinals, and have won exactly one playoff game in the 62  years since. However, Donovan McNabb is the Philadelphia Eagle quarterback, and I’m not going against him. Plus I’m a big fan of Brian Westbrook and have been since I watched him have a great game as a freshman against Colgate in the NCAA I-AA playoffs in 1997. I’m picking the Eagles to win, 38-31.


The Ravens and Steelers in the AFC? Tougher yet. I like Joe Flacco, the Baltimore quarterback, because I like to see guys from smaller schools (Delaware) do well, and I like Jim Leonhard, the 5-foot-8 safety, because I like small players who were college walk-ons (Wisconsin) do well, too. My favorite Steelers player is Hines Ward. Tough guy and clutch.  I’ll go with the Ravens here, 17-10.


How about Donovan McNabb’s spur-of-the-moment telephone on the sidelines in the last couple of minutes of the Eagles-Giants game Sunday has gotten quite a lot of play.


Your reaction to that stunt probably has a lot to do with whether you like McNabb in the first place, and whether you’re a Giant fan. I know that had he done that while he was beating the Buffalo Bills I wouldn’t have been amused. And, as a football purist, I didn’t like the gag. You’re up by 12 with 3:07 to go, so it isn’t over yet. Teams have lost bigger leads in less time than that. Plus, you can cost your team 15 yards, which McNabb did.


However, I don’t hold it against him. McNabb is a smart, gentlemanly, first-class guy, and he’s pretty funny, too, in a silly way. He didn’t mean anything by picking up the phone. He shouldn’t have done it, but in the end it didn’t hurt anyone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pitarresi: SU loss not end of world

The eighth-ranked Syracuse Orange must have felt the way most Central New Yorkers do after a big snowstorm:


“How are we going to dig ourselves out of this mess?”


SU fell into a big hole early against Georgetown tonight and never climbed out, taking an 88-74 beating from the Hoyas. It was not the way to start an extremely rugged stretch of four games in 12 days (No. 8 Georgetown, No. 12 Notre Dame, No 1 Pittsburgh, No. 20 Louisville), but it isn’t the end of the world, especially if the Orange can rebound with a win against Notre Dame Saturday, when there will be somewhere around 30,000 screaming fans in the Carrier Dome. The league will be a can of worms from now until March.


SU might have been right in this game had not the Hoyas shot like demons (12 of 21 on 3-pointers) and had not Andy Rautins gone out with a bruised knee midway through the first half. However, they also hurt themselves with poor foul shooting (10 of 23), too many turnovers (15, some of them just awful), and, at times, not enough composure.


Georgetown, on the other hand, seemed to have it together most of the time. The Hoyas play a disciplined offense – even more so when they have the lead – take time off the clock, and don’t do a lot to hurt themselves. I thought they might wilt in the wake of SU’s second-half run, but they had the answers. Tuesday we wrote about smarts, heart and the will to win. Georgetown was a little better in those departments tonight.


The Orange have some serious work ahead of them, but so does everybody else in the league. Again, it’s going to be fun to watch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pitarresi: SU to be mightily tested

These are the times that try men’s souls.


These times being Wednesday through Jan. 25, when the Syracuse University basketball team will be tested as it hasn’t been in quite a long time.


The Orange, 16-1 and ranked eighth, get started against 11-3, 13th-ranked Georgetown Wednesday. They follow that up with No. 12, 12-4 Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome Saturday, a visit to 15-0, top-ranked Pittsburgh next Tuesday, and a home game Jan. 25 with 12-3, No. 20 Louisville.


I have my doubts about SU’s ability to handle that excruciatingly tough run, but maybe they don’t have to be dominant. The Big East is incredibly tough, with at least 11 teams capable of beating anyone. Even if the Orange go 2-2, they’re in good shape. However, they do want to prove – to us and to themselves – they truly can compete with the other top teams in the conference.


SU has a lot of guns. Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku all can put it in the basket, and each of them has been the leading scorer at least once this season. There is little worry there. Rebounding and occasional sloppiness are concerns. However, you get the feeling that this run and the remainder of the league season come down to things that can’t be measure statistically – smarts, heart and the will to win.


It’s going to be fun to watch.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Pitarresi: A couple of big defensive stops for Gators

I made a mistake last night.


The first one this year!


I mentioned that Ahmad Black’s fourth quarter interception was the biggest play in Florida’s 24-14 BCS National Championship victory over Oklahoma.


I’ll stand by that, but I also should have mentioned the Gators’ twice stopping the Sooners in the red zone in the first half. A tipped-pass interception ended one Oklahoma chance, and four straight stops on runs ended the other. If the Sooners score on either opportunity, maybe they get rolling.


So, that’s three situations where the Florida defense came up very, very big.



Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pitarresi: Black's interception the play of the game


Percy Harvin was great, Tim Tebow was great, and it was a terrific, slug-it-out type of game.


I enjoyed Florida’s 24-1 BCS National Championship football victory over Oklahoma last night. It was just a great showdown.


If I had a pick the play of the game, it was the sensational fourth-quarter interception by Gator safety Ahmad Black. That pick protected Florida’s 17-14 lead, and set the stage for the long clinching drive that ended with Tebow's jump-pass touchdown to David Nelson. It was just a great move by Black, who picked the ball right out of the Oklahoma receiver’s hands.


Great stuff. It was a good old fashioned football game. Very enjoyable.

Pitarresi: Hannah Storm still a hit

I really, really like Hannah Storm.


I was reminded of that today when I was all but immobile for about two hours giving up many, many platelets at the Red Cross’s facility on Commercial Drive. The only thing I could do was watch television, which I don’t normally do in the morning. But there was ESPN’s Sports Center, so I figured, why not?


I think this happened the last time I was there, and I noticed that the female host looked a lot like Hannah Storm, only maybe 25 pounds lighter. Today, the woman was identified as, indeed, Hannah Storm. Well, I loved Storm for years when she did NBA games. She was very thorough, very well informed, very sharp, and very pretty and appealing.


I don’t really know what kind of job Storm does on Sports Center, which she joined about nine months ago. She seemed good this morning, but, again, I rarely, rarely see the show. I will more often now. I think Storm is knowledgeable, but more than that, you can’t help but like her. Yes, she is very pretty, but she also has a winning manner, and the camera loves her. She always looks good, always seems affable.


Continued good luck, Hannah.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pitarresi: I guess I like Florida

Oklahoma against Florida in the BCS Championship.

Who do you go with there? Who is the underdog?

Pick either one, and you're rooting for U.S. Steel against U.S. Steel. Or maybe we should pick a better example. Madonna against Paris Hilton, maybe.

Well, I'm really tired about hearing how good the SEC is - and was really, really happy that Utah blasted Alabama - I have to go with Florida in this game. I mean, they're my pick, and I'd also like to see them win. I usually don't care, but  I like the way Tim Tebow plays the game. Nothing against Sam Bradford, who is terrific, but Tebow is a my kind of player.

I'll be at work tomorrow and will have to sneak peeks at the game - well, I might take an extra-long lunch - so here's hoping it's a good one.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pitarresi: ND's Harangody is fun to watch


I was watching Luke Harangody last night, and I’m still amazed.


The Notre Dame center had another big game – 31 points and 11 rebounds – this time in a victory over Georgetown. I really enjoy watching this guy play.


Harangody might never be a good NBA player. In fact, looking at his game, I’m not sure he can be. He reminds me a great deal of Dave Cowens, and the days of 6-8 pro centers probably were over a long time ago.


Opposing coaches couldn’t care less. Harangody is a great college player, and a giant headache for everyone Notre Dame plays. Great feet, great hands, great positioning, great use of his big body, a soft touch. The first time I saw him was two years ago at the Carrier Dome. He ate Syracuse’s inside guys alive, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 103-91 Irish victory. In March, he scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds in an 89-83 win over the Orange in the second round of the Big East tournament.


Last year, the teams met just once and Harangody scored 14 points and had 14 rebounds in a 94-87 win over the Orange at the Joyce Center. SU’s Arinze Onuaku, who is bigger and stronger than Harangody if not as complete a player, had 19 points and 12 rebounds in that game. I’m looking forward to seeing the two big guys matched up when the Irish visit the Carrier Dome January 21. Get there early, because I guarantee you there will be at least 33,000 fans in the Dome.


One other thing. I don’t know who the best team in the Big East is - there are nine of the conference’s teams in the AP Top 25, led by Pittsburgh at No. 1 – but I think the toughest, physically and mentally, is Georgetown. Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers make the Hoyas formidable offensively, but they also are very gritty all around and very tough defensively – opponents are shooting just 36 percent against them – just have an attitude. Nothing less than you would expect from a John Thompson coached team, whether it be John Thompson III or John Thompson II.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pitarresi: Penn State, Buffalo losses hurt

I took two bullets the last couple of days.


Southern Cal whipped Penn State in the Rose Bowl, and Buffalo lost to Connecticut in the International Bowl.


When I watched Penn State roll past Syracuse early this football season, I thought the Nittany Lions were the best team I’d seen at the Carrier Dome in six or seven years. And they did win the Big Ten championship. I knew they would have to play pretty much an error-free game to beat the Trojans, and they didn’t. Their penalties and turnovers made things a lot easier for a superior team that was at the top of its game.


I thought Buffalo would have a good shot against Connecticut, but the Huskies were stronger on defense than I realized and Donald Brown, a great back, had a great game. The Bulls took full advantage of the UConn’s errors in the first half, but their inability to run the ball and Drew Willy’s inability to thrown downfield until late in the game did them in. Still, they had a chance to close to within three points before than final, fatal interception in the end zone.


 Those two games were the ones I really cared about. Now, I’ll just hope Florida beats Oklahoma in the BCS Championship. Why? Just because I like Tim Tebow.