Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pitarresi: Some SU opponents more than lucky

Maybe these guys are lucky, or maybe they know what they’re doing.


Syracuse University’s basketball team has lost two games this season, to Pittsburgh and Louisville, and both defeats technically were upsets. SU was ranked fifth in the nation and Pitt was unranked when the Panthers won 82-72 Jan. 2. The Orange were ranked second and Louisville was unranked when the Cardinals won 66-60 Sunday.


Technically upsets, yeah, but as Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after Sunday’s game, this is the Big East. There are a lot of good teams. And SU being defeated by Jamie Dixon’s Panthers or Pitino’s Cardinals is hardly unusual. The Orange have not had a lot of success against either team in recent years. Pitt has won seven of its last eight games with SU since 2006. Louisville has won six in a row since 2007.


Those two teams certainly have not been intimidated by the Orange. Nor has Villanova. The Wildcats, who will visit a sold out Carrier Dome Feb. 27, seven of their last nine games against SU.


Why have Pitt, Louisville, and Villanova done so well against SU? It’s not luck. These are consistently strong programs, and so is SU. Sometimes streaks just happen. But Dixon, Pitino and Villanova’s Jay Wright are very good coaches who have well-prepared, talented players. And, maybe the biggest thing, they have learned to attack Jim Boeheim’s signature 2-3 defense in creative ways.


The 2-3 has proved itself. It is a weapon that SU uses well, and it throws many teams into confusion, and reduces others to playing simplistic, uninspired basketball. However, these guys have found ways to crack it, more than one, since they don’t use the same method every time down the court. They make the zone move, get the ball into the lane and at the high post consistently, and get a good number of high percentage shots.


It’s going to be interesting to see how Villanova attacks the zone on that big day at the end of the month, with nearly 35,000 people all but blowing the roof off the Dome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pitarresi: SU zone deflates opponents


By now, it is obvious to everyone, or should be, as Andy Rautins sort of lectured me a couple of weeks ago, that this season’s Syracuse University’s basketball defense is the Orange’s best in a long time.


Coach Jim Boeheim has been criticized at times for his insistence on playing the 2-3 zone, which he does most of the time and this year all but exclusively. Hey, why shouldn’t he? It works! It is working especially well this season because the guards move very well, the big men are getting bodies on people and blocking shots, and the traps along the sidelines and in the corners are creating a lot of turnovers.


It also works because many of SU’s opponents seem to have no idea how to attack it. Sunday, Cincinnati got inside early against the Orange, then seemed to forget about that. The Bearcats did absolutely nothing to break down the zone, ran the shot clock down to the nub several times, and the last 10 minutes of the game settled for long jump shot after long jump shot, which they didn’t make.


  Cinci did noting to make the SU zone move, especially to get the big men to defend aggressively, which is a big key. If you are going to just pass the ball around the outside with a man standing still at the high post, you have to snap the ball. The Bearcats kind of threw the ball around half-heartedly and seemed to hope that some SU player or other would forget to face up.


It’s amazing. Maybe teams can’t play against zones because they don’t see them often or because it forces them into a style they are uncomfortable with, but, geez, you have to be prepared. Maybe that’s why long-time Big East teams like Connecticut, Villanova, and Pittsburgh do a better job of attacking the defense. They’ve seen it often. Louisville, too, probably because Rick Pitino has been around a long time, and is a former Boeheim assistant.


Watch those teams against the zone. Win or lose, I guarantee you they will be creative and won’t settle for jump shots the way Cincinnati and so many other teams have.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pitarresi: Colts will win; Graham might have been the best


My Super Bowl prediction:


Indianapolis Colts 37, New Orleans Saints 24


If Thomas R. Proctor High’s Will Smith and his friends don’t put Peyton Manning on his back three or four times and create a couple turnovers, they are going to get cut up. I don’t put much stock in saying this guy or that guy is the best ever, but the Colts star certainly is one of the most productive quarterbacks of all time. He has tremendous physical skills, an impressive quarterback demeanor, and prepares for and thinks the game about as well as everyone ever did.


It helps Manning that he has at least four very skilled receivers. You can shut down one good pass catcher, maybe even two, but you can’t shut down four. At least, I don’t think so. And the Saints have been leaky on defense through 18 games as it is.


New Orleans is very good on offense, but the Colts are better on both sides of the ball. Drew Brees is an excellent quarterback, but who would you pick, him or Manning? That’s a rhetorical question.


I’d love to see Will Smith get a Super Bowl ring. He’s been a great player in high school, at Ohio State, and with the Saints, and he’s always remembered his home town and old friends. I just don’t think it’s going to happen unless he and the rest of the defense have a great game, or Brees and his receivers play out of their minds.  


As an aside, there was discussion recently on a national sports radio talk show about who might be the best quarterback of all time. Manning was mentioned, along with Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Johnny Unitas. Not a bad group, but here is a more complete list, and, yes, it reaches back to the era of leather helmets:


Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Bobby Lane, Norm VanBrocklin, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach – one of the toughest ever, mentally and physically – Steve Young, maybe Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman. A quarterback’s job is to lead his team to victory, and those guys did, many times.


So did this guy, who somehow doesn’t seem to come up much in conversation any more: Otto Graham. He quarterbacked the Browns in 10 consecutive championships games in the All-American Conference and National Football League, and won seven of them. In 1954, he ran for three touchdowns and threw for three more in a 56-10 title game rout of the Detroit Lions. Again, I’m not sure I believe in “the greatest of all time,” but if you held a gun to my head I think I’d have to pick Graham, even if he last played more than a half century ago.