Tag Archives: uconn huskies

The Betrayal Of The Orange

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No one's happy about the move to the ACC in Syracuse.

When I was a kid I remember watching Syracuse-Georgetown on CBS and going insane with every piece of action.

There was one game in particular, I can’t remember the date but it involved John Thompson getting ejected, Syracuse shooting six straight free throws and the Carrier Dome going insane. I had my eyes glued to the television not knowing what to think.

After that game I was a Big East fanatic. It wasn’t just about Syracuse-Georgetown, it was big Monday, Villanova-Georgetown at the Spectrum or Wachovia Center, The Big East tournament at the Garden, The Backyard Brawl twice a year, Gerry McNamera and Kemba Walker’s magic at the Garden, Ray Allen going bonkers in the Big East Tournament… As you can tell I love the Big East.

It’s been the best basketball conference since I was a kid, the only conference to have 11 teams in the tournament, 3 Final Four teams and it’s the conference that my favorite basketball team plays in, The Syracuse Orange.

Since Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens an Derrick Coleman to John Wallace to Anthony and the current group of Orangemen I’ve been a borderline nutcase. Even as an Ohio State alum Syracuse is still the basketball team I die with. I love them more than any NBA team that’s how deep it is.

As much as I love Syracuse football, the school is synonymous with basketball and the Big East.

When February rolls around there is nothing greater than looking at the Syracuse schedule and seeing a gauntlet of opponents that gives me ulcers but creates some of the best basketball around. 10 games against Louisville, Pitt, UCONN, Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame who are all ranked in the top 15 at some point and then St. John’s, Providence and Marquette thrown in for good measure. Hostile environments, tough opponents who bruise you in every way and just awesome basketball.

It makes winter just as much fun to be a sports fan as any other time of the year… and it’s now over.

When Syracuse announced that it was joining the ACC I almost cried (no seriously, I was at a bar after the Mayweather fight and saw the announcement on ESPN… I left immediately after in a rage… I’m a little overboard with this stuff sometimes I think). The tradition that it had built up for years, the rivalries with Georgetown and UCONN that had been so prevalent and the mystique of the Garden were pushed aside for a TV deal, money and a chance to showcase the ACC in New York as AD Daryl Gross put it… They have a showcase, it’s called the Greensboro Coliseum, let em have it.

I’m a traditionalist, I like rivalries, I like mystique, that’s what makes sports great especially college. Rivalries are what fuels games and competition. When the Cuse played UCONN it was about supremacy for the conference year in an out with the same area and the games were so physically and passionate it drove you nuts. Are we really going to get the same feel when the Cuse plays Maryland?

This is agonizing, the games will never be the same nor will they have the same intensity. I go from a gauntlet to watching the Cuse play Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest (ooooooohhhhh….). The age of the superconference has begun and it is killing the fabric that college sports was built on.

First we get Nebraska-Oklahoma taken away from us, then Texas A&M-Texas, now this… What’s next?

What is the reason for any of this? Jim Boeheim may have the answer himself.

“Football and money,” he said while on ESPN yesterday. That’s all it really is. Schools with football programs want TV money and their own network. The only reason Syracuse and Pitt for that matter are on the move is because of this one reason…

And it makes no sense.

One, if you want more money and a chance to showcase yourself wouldn’t you join a better conference. The ACC has been the most mediocre of the other 5 big BCS conferences (yep more than than the so-called woeful Big East. In BCS bowls the ACC is 1-9, the Big East has 5 wins including a National championship when Miami still called the Big East home) when it comes to football. They’ve become a punching bag for mediocrity and no one outside of their conference takes them too seriously.

Also in terms of basketball is anyone outside of Duke or UNC any good?

You kiss moments like this goodbye Syracuse.

The Big East basketball conference is hands the best in the nation. At least 10 of it’s 16 teams have been in the top 10 in the last few seasons, the ACC has only had 3 Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest who is as bipolar as they come.

So in reality Syracuse downgraded itself in it’s number one sport of basketball and plays lesser competition on a smaller stage while the ACC gains a decent football program that is still trying to find it’s winning ways.

And as fans this is supposed to make us happy? Now instead of the magic of Madison Square Garden in March fans of the Orange and the Panthers get the Georgia Dome or Greensboro Coliseum? It’s like having your Benz repo’d and having to drive a Hyundai Elantra.

But this is what it’s coming to. Tradition is out the window an the AD’s and chancellors of your alma mater’s and favorite schools are putting money first. It’s not fun but change is always eminent even if it’s not for the best such as with this case.

I’m still an Orange fan no matter what though. It’s gonna hurt two years from now when there’s no more Big Monday showcase games, no brawls with St. John’s, no more payback games with Villanova and no gauntlets to run through where every game is a must see.

Syracuse had a great thing going in the Big East and they ruined it over money. Now everyone involved from the players, fans and The Big East conference has to suffer for it.


Hands Down, Kemba’s The Best

Kemba Walker has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's the best player in the nation.

While Jimmer Fredette was all the rage of the NCAA lighting up scoreboards and putting up ridiculous numbers, Kemba Walker took a backseat.

 

Walker was the NCAA’s main attraction after an unreal start to the season that saw him put up 30-point games like it wasn’t a problem. He hit clutch shot after clutch shot and took UCONN from preseason unranked to the top 10.

 

Then he tailed off. Why? Because he knew he couldn’t do it all by himself. Truth be told, Walker and Fredette were walking the same path during this season as the top two players in the nation up for the player of the year. Both were little guards who put up big numbers and only hoped that their teammates got involved.

 

Yet while Jimmer jacked away to his hearts content, Kemba decided to do what all great players do and that’s make his teammates better.

 

During UCONN’s lull in the Big East season Walker saw his points per game average drop but had an increase in assists. In wins and in losses Walker was getting guys like Shabazz Napier, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Jeremy Lamb involved more in the game. He was freeing up and finding Alex Orakhi underneath the rim, he was getting everyone involved and making them better.

 

The results were mixed at the time, but once the Big East tournament hit, you saw that it was going to payoff in the long haul.

 

Lamb more than any other player on the roster has emerged as a gigantic threat opposite of walker. Lamb has put on a show scoring 24 versus San Diego State and 19 in the West region final versus Arizona.

 

Because of Lamb’s success in the last 2 months teams now have another problem to watch be wary of when facing the Huskies.

Jeremy Lamb is one of the main recipients of Kemba Walker's change in approach in the last 3 months.

However, when the chips are down, when you need a bucket, and when you need a big play, that’s when Kemba Walker takes over.

 

During the Huskies 9 game in 19 day win streak (which has to go down in sports history as one of the most stupefying streaks ever) Walker hasn’t played less than 33 minutes, topping 40 minutes 4 times. He hasn’t shot under 40% in any game, he buried Pittsburgh with a devastating crossover and game-winner over Gary McGhee, he shredded the Aztecs defenders with ease whether it was 6 foot D.J. Gay or 6-8 Billy White.

 

The nickname Iron Man doesn’t seem sufficient enough to describe Walker and his brilliance; he’s been a superhero and then some for UCONN. He’s led the Huskies far beyond anyone’s expectations since they took the court versus Stone Brook back in September. Now with two games left he has them at the peak of the mountaintop even though he has to be gassed.

When Walker and coach Jim Calhoun bear hugged each other at midcourt after their win over Arizona in the West regional final, you saw how deep a connection Calhoun has with his star pupil. Calhoun’s season has been one to forget off of the court, as he will be suspended for three Big East games next year due to recruiting violations. Through it all Calhoun has held his head above water and having Walker there to lead his team and overshadow that dark period has definitely been a blessing.

 

Calhoun has been known to be very hard on his players because he demands so much out of them. In Walker he hasn’t to be and their bond is more special than any I’ve seen with Calhoun in his 20+ years at Storrs.

 

Jimmermania was fun. He was a blast to watch and did some impressive things. But when it comes down to who the player of the year was this year in the NCAA, there’s no question it’s Kemba Walker.

 

He’s done everything asked of him and more this year. It seems like every time we look up, Walker is at it again and carrying UCONN to another victory. With possibly two games left in college career, who’s to say he wont do it again.


Tourney Time!

The Buckeyes are the team to beat on the road to Houston.

With all due respect to the Colorado Buffaloes being 21-13, losing to Harvard, and San Francisco and beating such power houses like Maryland Eastern Shore and the Citadel don’t make you a tournament team. Even if you did beat Texas, Missouri and Kansas State three times.

 

I know you thought you should’ve been in but your yawn of a start didn’t make up for a flurry of a finish. I mean where do you think you are, the Big Ten?

 

As with every year the selection of the field of now 68 is not without some controversy. USC, Clemson and Penn State in, St. Mary’s, Missouri State and Virginia Tech out.

 

However, you must deal with it. The best part is now we can watch it all unfold in the way that a national champion should be rewarded, in a playoff. Hi BCS.

 

This year the field expanded to 68 teams, which essentially allowed three more crappy teams to make the field and create two more “Play-in” games to feed our growing appetites for basketball.

 

The field is pretty interesting. For the second straight year the number 1 seed overall gets the toughest bracket (Ohio State would love to trade with Pittsburgh right now) and Duke is a #2 disguised as a #1 (going to Anaheim 4 hours away from #2 San Diego State).

 

But this year there are 11 Big East teams, shattering the record of 8, a larger amount of mid-majors that could be primed for big runs (Oakland and Belmont), and about 9 teams that can win it all.

It would've been fun to watch St. mary's, but oh well.

As much as I like Ohio State their depth concerns me. As much as I like Duke location concerns. As much as I like Kansas their expectations concern me (I learned a long time ago that when everyone picks Kansas, pick against them). And as much as I like Pittsburgh I don’t think one Big East team can win this tournament…

 

But I think they’ll make it interesting.

 

I don’t expect much from the Big East except to kill a bunch of brackets and then fall. St. john’s, Marquette, West Virginia and Cincinnati could make someone’s life miserable and then fall the next game. The last thing I want to see being a top seed is a mid-level big east team waiting for them because disaster might ensue.

 

So what’s going to happen? Well before that, lets take a look at who should have and shouldn’t have made it.

 

ST. MARY’S 25-8

They won their conference, were ranked for last half of the season, played in a relatively decent conference and have a great history in the tournament and they played tough games versus St. John’s and BYU. Plus they had 25 wins (more on this later.).

 

MISSOURI STATE 25-8

They took Tennessee to the limit and won their regular season conference in the Missouri Valley, which year in and out is very competitive.

 

THE BIG TEN FOUR: PENN STATE (19-14), MICHIGAN STATE (19-14), ILLINOIS (19-13), MICHIGAN (20-13)

Here is my biggest problem with the tournament committee. It’s this thing called overvaluing a conference. The Big Ten was heralded as the best conference in the country and didn’t live up to it.

 

It was a top-heavy conference that featured three really good teams (Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin) and the rest of the conference was mediocre.

 

These four teams only got in because of their namesake. Critics will tell you that they played tough schedules and should be rewarded for how they played. Ok, I understand you play a tough schedule… BUT YOU LOST 13 GAMES, THAT MEANS YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD!

 

Two weeks ago Penn State was 15-13 including losses to Maine, Maryland and Ole Miss.

What do 14 losses, 3 20 point losses and no consistency all year get you.. a ticket to the dance of course.

Illinois was 6-9 in their last 15 and lost to UIC by 3.

 

Michigan lost every game they played versus a top 25 team and went 0-6 against the top 3 in their own conference.

 

And Michigan State lost by double digits to the following teams: Syracuse, Purdue, Iowa by 20, Wisconsin by 24, Ohio State, Purdue by 20 and Penn State.

 

And these four teams were worthy of not only making the tournament, but also avoiding the play-in games?

 

Why not include Northwestern?

 

I guess having Gene Smith at the head of the committee does wonders for your conference.

 

And now, the field (not covering the play-in games because those are the only game s that those teams are winning).

 

EAST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: OHIO STATE

BEST PLAYER: JARED SULLINGER

DARKHORSE: NORTH CAROLINA

UPSET SPECIALS: MARQUETTE OVER XAVIER

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND- WASHINGTON-GEORGIA. DOWN THE ROAD: OHIO STATE-KENTUCKY

I thought as the number one seed in any playoff that you were supposed to have the least challenging field to deal with as reward for your regular season. Guess I was wrong.

 

OSU has to potentially play Kentucky and Syracuse or North Carolina on their way to the final four and all three teams are peaking right now and have an equal share of claim as the top team to contend for a trip to Houston.

 

The region is stacked as West Virginia is a potential roadblock for Kentucky and Washington could do damage to UNC or Syracuse. Also George Mason could pose a little bit of a threat to OSU in the second round with Cam Long looking to take advantage of freshman Aaron Craft.

 

This bracket is also the lottery showcase with UK’s Terrance Jones and Brandon Knight, OSU’s Jared Sullinger and UNC’s Harrison Barnes looking to make statements before they potentially put their names into the for June’s draft.

Looking for a lottery pick this June? Then this regional is for you.

You’ll also want to get a peak at UW’s Isaiah Thomas, Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Princeton’s Kareem Maddox. Thomas is a guard in the same vein of Nate Robinson while Tu Holloway is flashy point guard who can shoot the lights of any opponent and Maddox is a post up player who can score in buckets.

 

I like Ohio State to win the region but two things concern me, the lack of depth and lack of killer instinct. If Sullinger or Dallas Lauderdale gets into foul trouble then its slim pickings on that bench that runs seven deep at best.

 

The good news is Kentucky only rolls six deep and Syracuse and UNC flip flop between lots of bench production and dead weight.

 

FINAL 4: OHIO STATE

WEST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: DUKE

BEST PLAYER: DERRICK WILLIAMS

DARKHORSE: SAN DIEGO STATE

UPSET SPECIALS: OAKLAND OVER TEXAS AND MEMPHIS OVER ARIZONA

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: MEMPHIS-ARIZONA. DOWN THE ROAD: SDSU-UCONN

I really want to pick UCONN but playing 5 games in 5 days will catch up to them like playing 4 in 4 caught up to Syracuse years ago. UCONN matches up well with Arizona, Duke and SDSU potentially, but the wear and tear of the Big East season and tourney will affect them after the Bucknell game.

 

How does Mizzou feel about playing a Cincinnati team that’s playing it’s best ball of the year while they’re playing their worst? Mike Anderson’s team has had a miserable second half and should be a quick exit.

 

Oakland scares me as a dark horse sweet 16 team. They played a tough non-conference schedule, which included a win at Tennessee. Texas, Arizona or Memphis doesn’t have an answer for Keith Benson in the middle and he should put up big numbers.

 

This bracket has San Diego State’s name written all over it. Their athleticism should get them through the 2nd and 3rd rounds easily and they have the bodies to match up with UCONN in the sweet 16.

Don't be shocked if the Aztecs make a run.

If they play Duke though how will they respond? Duke’s defense and rotation of about 9 players will frustrate the Aztecs and the Devils experience outweighs their athleticism. Also with the way Nolan Smith has played all year I don’t see a guard in this tourney stopping him. Even Kemba Walker.

 

FINAL 4: DUKE

SOUTHWEST REGIONAL

BEST TEAM: KANSAS

BEST PLAYERS: BEN HANSBROUGH, MARKIEFF AND MARCUS MORRIS

DARKHORSE: LOUISVILLE

UPSET SPECIAL: RICHMOND OVER VANDERBILT

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: VANDY0RICHMOND. DOWN THE ROAD: KANSAS-LOUISVILLE, NOTRE DAME-PURDUE, NOTRE DAME-LOUISVILLE, PUDRDUE-KANSAS

At first I thought that the Southeast region was the lightest. Then I looked at this region and though, “are there any good teams besides Kansas, Louisville or Notre Dame?” no.

 

This region has all the excitement of the Wisconsin-Penn State game on Friday.

 

Vanderbilt wont handle Justin Harper or Kevin Anderson and the inside out game that Richmond plays. Georgetown doesn’t know if Chris Wright will even contribute once he returns from his hand injury. And vastly superior competition next round will roast TAMU, FSU and UNLV.

 

Purdue however intrigues me. Etwan Moore and JaJuan Johnson pose a sizeable threat to the bracket with their experience but they lost to Richmond on neutral soil by 11 back in November and they were 0-3 on the road versus ranked teams this year. Plus they just lost by 18 to Michigan State in Indianapolis and they scares me more than any other stat.

If this man keeps his head, then the Irish can go far.

I like Louisville because they can score and defend and they get clutch performances from Kyle Kuric and Preston Knowles when needed. Also there aren’t better guards in this region than Knowles and Peyton Siva. They can take over a game and cause headaches for whoever plays them.

 

Kansas is Kansas. Arguably the most complete team in the nation, as they are athletic at all positions and deep. The Morris Twins are absolute monsters in the paint or on the wing and the team as a whole is an offensive juggernaut.

 

The problem with them is their consistency at all positions. I don’t trust Tyshawn Taylor at all and Josh Selby is still trying to fit into the offense. Plus in their two losses their lack of focus and execution murdered them and almost cost them against Nebraska, Iowa State and Michigan.

So I’m taking Notre Dame. Why? The fight in this team runs from top to bottom. They back down from no one in any situation. Look at the UCONN game two weeks ago when Ben Hansbrough fouled out of the game with 8 minutes left. They weathered the Kemba Walker hurricane and a raucous crowd to pull themselves together and pull out a huge win.

 

They can shoot anyone’s lights out and can overcome their lack of athleticism with their experience and hustle.

 

(Side note: this is all pending on whether or not Hansbrough can keep is head in check. He almost cost them the UCONN game and did cost them against Louisville at the Garden. When he’s on he’s the best shooter in the country, when he’s off his volatile nature becomes a huge detriment to the team. )

 

FINAL 4: NOTRE DAME

SOUTHEAST REGION

BEST TEAM: PITTSBURGH

BEST PLAYERS: JIMMER FREDETTE, JACOB PULLEN AND DWIGHT HARDY

DARKHORSE: ST. JOHN’S

UPSET SPECIALS: UTAH STATE OVER KANSAS STATE, BELMONT OVER WISCONSIN, GONZAGA OVER ST. JOHN’S AND WOFFORD OVER BYU

BEST GAMES: 1ST ROUND: ST. JOHN’S VERSUS GONZAGA. DOWN THE ROAD: ST. JOHN’S VERSUS KANSAS STATE, PITTSBURGH VERSUS ST. JOHN’S, KANSAS STATE VERSUS BYU

Um… yeah… this region is a cluster****.

 

The committee must’ve wanted to play head games with everyone with this region.

 

It’s technically a bunch of guard dependent teams who wouldn’t make the sweet 16 in any other region.

 

The top 4 seeds could either maker final four runs or be done before week 2. By the way, how in the blue hell did Florida get a 2 seed? Did the committee realize that they lost to UCF, Jacksonville, South Carolina, Mississippi State and got drilled by Kentucky on Sunday? Just saying.

 

The bottom line is that this will be he most fun region of the four. You’ll see Jimmer drop 40. Belmont rain three’s and Pitt bludgeon their teams to death.

 

However, I’m beyond interested to see how St. john’s does. Before D.J. Kennedy went down with a torn ACL I thought that they were a real final 4 contender. Then that happened and I backtracked. Now? I don’t know.

How far can the Johnnies go? This man holds the key.

I know that they depend on Dwight Hardy just as much as BYU depends on Jimmer, and that they struggle to find offense in some areas at times. But looking at this region I feel that it’s theirs for the taking. Except for their opening game against a peaking Gonzaga, the Johnnies can beat anyone in the bottom half of their bracket and for one game they can take out Pitt, K-State or Wisconsin.

 

But I’m taking K-State because Jacob Pullen pulled himself together and brought this team back from the dead. A month ago the Wildcats were NIT bound when Pullen stopped caring about the NBA and put the team on his back. Even with Wally Judge gone the Wildcats rallied behind Pullen and the inside tandem of Curtis Kelly and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and ran through Kansas, Missouri, and Texas on their way to this 5 seed.  Why stop now? Besides, Colorado aint playing so they don’t have to worry about playing a team they cant beat.

 

FINAL 4: KANSAS STATE

Yeah I know my final 4 is the same as the beginning of the year (except for Syracuse, stupid East regional.) but why turn away now? OSU, K-State and Duke are playing their best ball of the year and Notre Dame fulfills my Big East obligation. So you know that means that I’m sticking with the Buckeyes to win it all.

 

Ok enough talking, Thursday get here already (Tuesday for those interested in the “first round.”), let the games begin!

 

 

 


Gerry McNamera’s Four Day Magic At The Garden

Five years later Gerry McNamara's legendary run still lingers in the brains of those that watched.

Here’s a YouTube video for the ages: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn3kPBww2w0

 

Jim Boeheim was unloading on to the media about the importance of Gerry McNamara to his Syracuse Orange team after McNamara led the ‘Cuse to a win over Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament. He laid into assistant coaches, other head coaches, players and even Syracuse students who had the nerve to say that G-money was overrated.

 

It had been written in Sports Illustrated, in a local campus newspapre and talked about by Big East players that McNamara wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. He was a preseason player of the year candidate and the last member of the 2003 national championship team left.

 

His importance over his career was highly understated up until his senior year. He was arguably Syracuse’s most important player in each of his first three seasons.

 

In the national championship game versus Kansas his threes put the Jayhawks in an early hole that they never could get out of. He had out of this world range. As soon as he stepped across half-court he was in range. He dropped 43 in a first round slugfest in 2004 versus BYU that would’ve made Jimmer Fredette blush. We called him G-money for a reason; as soon as he let it fly it was going in.

 

There was never a moment when I lost faith in his shot. Even when he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn against Vermont in 2005 I knew the ‘Cuse were in good hands going into the 05-06 year.

 

He was supposed to be the backbone of a team that was on arguably the best run of any of Jim Boeheim’s teams in his 30 seasons at Syracuse. It looked like things were status quo as the team started off 15-2 though they had no real impressive victories at all during the early stretch of the season.

 

But then everything fell apart once they got into conference play. Every single deficiency was exposed as they lost 4 straight games to the upper echelon of the monster that is the Big East (and Seton Hall) and 9 of their last 13 games.

 

The games were nightmares. UCONN destroyed Syracuse in both games that they played, so did Villanova, Pittsburgh outmuscled them, Cincinnati guard Devan Downey beat up G-money, DePaul… DEPAUL MURDERED SYRACUSE 108-69!! THEY WERE 12-13!!!

McNamara's senior year didn't go as planned but Coach Jim Boeheim always had his back.

Syracuse couldn’t shoot consistently; rebound consistently, couldn’t get the 2-3 zone to work, and had no real second scorer.

 

Not that the number one option was working that well.

 

As much as I loved McNamara he was getting killed. There was too much put on him, he had too many responsibilities. Lead the team in scoring, distribute the ball to players that weren’t as good as he was. He had to get his and make sure that everyone got their game going.

 

His stats were horrendous. He shot 35% from the field for the season and 33% from 3, which were career lows. He was drained and you could tell. What started off as a promising year and a great end to an era had turned into a nightmare.

 

The ‘Cuse finished 19-11 and 7-9 in the conference. As the conference tournament approached it became clear that unless Syracuse made a serious run then G-money would end his great career in the NIT.

 

The reality was that it was impossible. Their first round match was against Cincinnati who was fighting for their tourney lives themselves and had beaten the Orange by 17 one-month prior. The winner of that game got the pleasure of facing national title favorite UCONN who had a gang of NBA talent in Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone. Then maybe Georgetown with Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert or Marquette and their sick 4 guard set, and finally Villanova and their own sharpshooting guards Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry or Pittsburgh their beasts of forwards Sam Young and Aaron Gray.

 

They had to win at least two of those games to even get a sniff of the tournament. But after the way that they had played I thought that there was no way it was going to happen.

 

Especially with how G-money was shooting, sure he found a rhythm on senior day versus Villanova but how would he perform when we needed him most? Add to that the fact that he was playing on an injured leg, which would hinder his shooting and ball handling and I wanted to shank myself with a spork.

 

Even though I loved Eric Devendorf  he was way too young to carry the load, same for Terrance Roberts and Daryl Watkins who were great around the rim but couldn’t go for self to save their life.

 

So as that Wednesday lunchtime tip-off rolled around I came to the realization that the magic was gone. The ‘Cuse was done and McNamara wouldn’t get the proper send off that I though he deserved.

 

The Cinci game was brutal. James White destroyed Demetris Nichols all game long. White was the kind of guy that you knew couldn’t have an NBA career because he was way too raw. He could jump through the roof of a gym but loved his outside shot too much. If he ever settled into a game he could’ve been a first-round draft pick.

The shot that started the magic.

McNamara had another one of those games that had plagued his entire season, he couldn’t hit a two to save his life. He missed layups, and mid-range jumpers all day, but he was getting everyone involved. Devendorf, Watkins, Nichols and Roberts all had double figures and were feeding off of McNamara’s playmaking. At one point the ‘Cuse had a 14 point lead and seemed comfortably in the lead until they forgot how to rebound and Cincinnati ruled the offensive glass and climbed back into the game. Once James White hit a two to put the Bearcats up by one I figured it was over. Devendorf fouled Downey who hit one of two at the line. Roberts grabbed the rebound and immediately gave it up to McNamara who got fouled with about six seconds left. Cinci had one to give and came close to an intentional foul that had Boeheim livid.

 

The inbound went to McNamara who fought through what seemed like a sea of Bearcats going behind the back, ducking under a high defender, and dodging everything in his way. He took two steps guarding the ball from swiping hands and leapt from just behind the free throw line and launched a floater that dropped in for a 74-73 lead.

 

I was at work when this happened, when I screamed my guests thought I was insane.

 

G-money’s prayer erased a 1-8 second half and a lost 14 point lead to save the day as Jihad Muhammed’s prayer fell about two inches short from giving me a heart attack.

 

I was breathless. I couldn’t believe McNamara had fought through a bad half and all of those defenders to lead the Orange to victory and possibly the NCAA tournament. Yeah I was a little delusional, I mean sure we got to 20 wins but we needed a lot more than just a last second win over a mediocre Cincinnati team to make the tournament. UCONN was up next and that game was our season I thought. If we beat the consensus number one in the country then we were in. But if we had a redo of those prior two games… done.

 

I watched the UCONN games, yeah we lost the first one by 8 but we were down by 30 at one point. I remember Marcus Williams darting into the lane for a layup stopping after it dropped and watching him wink into the camera. As overly confident as they were they had reason to be. They went nine deep and had talent seeping from its pores.

 

The problem with them was that they were so confidant that Jim Calhoun couldn’t control their cockiness. You could tell all year he had a problem getting his team to work hard instead of living off of their talent and it showed.

 

(funny thing is that they should’ve won the tournament that year and by a landslide. No one was as deep and talented at multiple positions like they were. That was Jim Calhoun’s best team and he’s won two national titles. Even funnier is that hen they lost to George Mason I didn’t blink. That was typical of their year, play down to competition, pull out games you should’ve won by 30 and lose to teams you had no business losing to. They were one of the most bizarre teams in NCAA tournament history.)

 

did I see Syracuse winning this game? No way especially after the first two but after Wednesday I figured why not?

 

McNamara’s shot was failing him from the get go, he didn’t make a basket until the 16:46 mark of the second half where he buried a three ball to put the ‘Cuse up by 14, again. UCONN was being UCONN. They were underachieving against a less talented team and the 2-3 zone that Syracuse is known for was doing a number on them and they couldn’t get one clean shot off at all.

G-money's magic continued versus UCONN.

Marcus Williams played his worst game all season shooting wise even though he handed out 11 dimes. McNamara, though he couldn’t hit a shot, was setting up all of his guys again. Nichols was able to get easy buckets and Terrance Roberts was a monster on the inside. Problem was Roberts was in foul trouble all half because even though UCONN couldn’t hit a shot they controlled the offensive glass.

 

The combination of Hilton Armstrong and Boone killed Roberts and Watkins all afternoon and just like against Cinci, the lead evaporated. When Roberts fouled out with 3:17 remaining Boeheim decided to go small instead of relying on Arinze Onuaku in his early stages of development.  Luckily it worked out because UCONN all but abandoned the inside game relying on jump sots instead.

 

Rashard Anderson hit a three to put UCONN up by one. After Josh Wright missed a gimme, Denham Brown grabbed a rebound and I thought that was it. Brown wasn’t missing any of those two free throws and I wondered if there was anything left. That’s when the what if’s run through your head. What if G-money knocked down a jumper? What if Roberts had stayed out of foul trouble? What if we didn’t lose four straight and didn’t look so bad all year.

 

It was over. As Brown sunk that last freebie McNamara took the inbound at 11 seconds from the defensive end. He wasn’t contested as Calhoun told his troops to play off and not foul. As he brought the ball across half court only Rashard Anderson was even remotely close to him. McNamara pulled up about 30 feet from the basket and three feet in front Anderson who put up a lazy arm to contest McNamara’s heave… AND HE DRAINED IT!!! 30 FEET OUT!!!

 

The Garden is going nuts. Roberts is holding his head Travis Hill style after Christian Laettner’s jumper against Kentucky. G-money did it again. I was crumpled over behind the bar in shock. How in the hell did this happen again I wondered? The guy just suffered through another bad shooting night and somehow got up the stones to hoist a prayer that drops in like it was nothing.

 

That’s why they say the best shooters keep shooting. No matter how bad you night is going your confidence can’t be shaken. For all that G-money had been through that year from the overrated talk, to his poor shooting percentage, he remained confident. That’s why I always loved him. You could never tell things were bothering him, he just went out and did his thing.

 

Needless to say the game went into overtime and the 2-3 zone did UCONN in for good. The Huskies only hit two shots in overtime and McNamara nailed 3 of 4 free throws to give the Orange the lead for good.

 

When Williams’ last two shots fell short it was over. 86-84 Orange. Roberts sprinted off of the bench to grab McNamara and toss him over his shoulder in jubilant fashion. I damn near cried. I knew we were in at that point. We had the signature win needed to make the NCAA’s. who could say that this team wasn’t worthy of a bid after the last two games? Two close victories on a neutral floor in a big-time environment, you’d be nuts to exclude the ‘Cuse from the dance.

 

It was all McNamara though. It’s funny because the way that people made his run seem was that McNamara was going off every night leading Syracuse to victory. The reality was the he was 9-31 in his first two games but dropped 22 dimes and made everyone on the floor better.

Despite his stats McNamara made teammates like Eric Devendorf better.

McNamara hit shots when he needed to and set up Nichols, Roberts and company for success. That’s why he was so important. The shooting was secondary, he gave guys with little experience the confidence to play big in big scenarios.

 

In the first two games of the Big East Tournament each member of the starting five scored in double figures. That kind of well-rounded play was the reason for both wins as much as G-money’s heroics.

 

Even though Syracuse had the win I thought it needed to make the dance I knew they couldn’t have a letdown versus Georgetown on Friday.

 

At this point the media was all over this thing. McNamara was the latest in a long line of players to shine in the Madison Square Garden spotlight. It was his time. The overrated talk was out of the window, people knew what he meant to Syracuse basketball now and if they didn’t then they need their heads examined.

 

The confidence in Syracuse was growing. You could see an extra hop in their step from the jump against Georgetown. Thing is that the Hoyas were way far left from Cinci and UCONN. They were a slow down and grind team that limited their possessions and played wicked defense.

 

The first half set basketball back a few years. There were no baskets in the first 4 minutes and Syracuse couldn’t buy a bucket after that. Syracuse trailed by 15 at the half and were on the verge of getting run out the building. It was the first game of the tournament that McNamara couldn’t get his teammates and needed to bear the offensive load. Once again he stepped up.

 

After taking only two shots in the first half he went 5-8 in the second half, all of which from three land. He hit three in a row in a two minute stretch that cut the Hoya lead from 12 to 4. The 2-3 zone set in and it was Georgetown that couldn’t buy a basket. Once he got going McNamara found Matt Gorman for a game-tying three and Nichols got to the foul line hitting some key free throws.  Georgetown however still clung to their slim lead late into the second half when G-money hit his 5th and final three of the half to cut the lead to one with 48 seconds left. The crowd just like it had done in previous games began chanting his names over and over.

 

On Georgetown’s next possession Ashanti Cook threw a bad pass that landed in Nichols hands. He immediately gave it up to McNamara who led a two-on-one and fed Devendorf for a one point lead with 1.5 seconds left. The man had done it again.

McNamara led a furious second half comback against Georgetown.

58-57. The ‘Cuse was in the Big East title game for the second straight year and in the most silly of fashion. In the last minute of each game G-money was the direct reason as to why Syracuse won each game. I had never seen anything like it.

 

The Big East Tournament had Ray Allen’s runner, Erick Barkley going HAM and countless other memorable figures and moments. But none like what McNamara was doing. There was no explanation as to how a guy with a busted wheel was single handedly leading his team to the top of one of basketball’s best conference.

 

This team couldn’t beat a good team all year and now had done it in three straight days. They had a chance to be the first Big East team to win 4 games in four days to win the tourney.

 

I didn’t care about the NCAA’s. they were the furthest from my mind. I wanted this team to win this tournament and have McNamara shove it in everyone’s face afterwards. For McNamara this was his moment. Melo had his in 03, Warrick had his the year before, but arguably neither was like this.

 

Pittsburgh was last on the list. Unlike their previous opponents Syracuse matched up well with Pitt and played a similar style of basketball. Pitt was a team of a New York transplants as Jamie Dixon loved draining NYC of its talent for his own use. I actually admired Pitt because of this. Guys like Carl Krauser, LeVance Fields and Ronald Ramon were tough point guards who could penetrate or spot up and shoot. They also crumpled early versus that 2-3 zone of coach Boeheim’s.

 

This game was different from the previous three as the ‘Cuse jumped out in front early instead of coming on in the second half. McNamara got it going early with ten first half points and that defense confused Krauser and limited Sam Young’s athletic ability.

McNamara got the 'Cuse going early and put them up late.

Once in control, McNamara spread around the ball in the second half feeding Nichols for a three  as well as finding Watkins for an easy score. But even though this game was different in that Syracuse jumped out early, it was similar in how they blew their lead. After taking a 44-34 lead Pitt went on a 14-3 run taking a 1 point lead with 8:40 left to play. After a timeout McNamara buried a three and Syracuse never trailed again.

 

Syracuse didn’t need McNamara’s late game heroics today instead Josh Wright knocked down 4 free throws late to seal a 65-61 win and give Syracuse their second straight Big East title. They won four games in four days, never done before. They made the NCAA tournament and the underrated Gerry McNamara was named MVP of the tourney. I mean who else could’ve possibly won it?

 

His numbers were average but his heart, and guts, were huge. The Three against Cinci that won it, the three against UCONN that tied it, the three to bring them within one against G’Town and the pass to Devendorf that won it and the three against Pitt that put them up for good.

 

I watched him soak it all in and I basked with him. I thought to myself that this team was going to win the national championship. How could it not? We just won 4 in 4 days, 6 in 3 weeks is nothing… unfortunately it was something.

 

In the first round against Texas A&M McNamara and the entire team was gassed, the emotion of the Big East Tourney never carried over and the Aggies broke the Orange spirit 66-58. It was the second straight first round loss in a row for the Orange. It was painful for two reasons; 1. because everyone was so high from the magic at the Garden and 2. because G-money only played 23 minutes as the banged up leg finally got to him.

McNamara was named the Big East Tournament MVP leading Syracuse's improbable run.

He gave too much of himself at the Garden, when he was done so were the Orange. It was part maddening and part sad.

 

No one drafted G-money. He played overseas for a little and then in the D-League before joining Boeheim’s staff two years ago. If they drafted off of pure heart and will McNamara would’ve been a first rounder, instead people like Adam Morrison got a shot.

 

Whatever, I have my lasting image of McNamara. For four days he took the fears of the Syracuse fans and turned them into unrelenting ecstasy. That run will never be duplicated. Guys will score 30 a game for four straight days, guys will make big plays, and someone will be the next one to light up the Garden for his own personal use. But it wont be like what McNamara did. They wont hit those shots, put a team on their back and make history like he did.

 

Gerry McNamara for four days was the best player in the country and let the whole world know. He was the furthest thing from overrated, he was as good as advertised.


The Debate: Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker

Jimmer Fredette's may make him the leader for the national player of the year.

The player of the year race is a two horse race (sorry Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger). Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker have turned basketball games into their own personal highlight reels ever since November.

 

Both Walker and Fredette have similar skill sets; both are shooting guards in point guard bodies, both can kill you from the outside or get their points in the paint and either way they can score in bunches.

 

They can take over games no matter the situation. Last night versus undefeated San Diego State Fredette took over in the second half by driving the lane and getting to the free throw line at will. Walker struggled mightily against Texas until overtime when he scored seven points including the game winning shot and wore down Texas defenders with his relentlessness.

 

Fredette has scored 40 in 3 of the last 4 games, Walker ad a five game stretch in the early portion of the season where he averaged 33 a game including 30 against Michigan State and Kentucky.

 

Without them their teams are probably still good but not top ten material. So the question is who would you choose, Fredette or Walker?

 

As I said earlier they are basically the same player as far as skills go. They both play without fear and want the ball in every key situation. Both are small, tough and from New York (yeah I threw that in there it’s a pride thing).  So is there anyway to separate them? Well of course there is. If there wasn’t I wouldn’t be writing this now would I?

 

SHOOTING

Across the board the edge goes to Fredette. He shoots 48% from the field including 42% from three and 90% at the line while Walker goes 44, 34 and 83 in the same order. When Fredette gets open you better pray he misses.

 

Advantage: Fredette

INTANGIBLES

Both guys are shoot first point guards that average fewer than 5 assists a game. Walker however has a better feel for the position, as is a better defender. Walker is a great rebounding guard at 5.3 per game, which is third on the team and he leads the Big East in steals (2.1). Plus Walker is always the man with the ball in is hands with the game on the line. Time after time we see Walker with the rock with time winding down and he comes through time after time. We haven’t seen that out of Fredette, which could be due to the Cougars schedule lacking the same competition as the Huskies.

 

Advantage: Walker

SUPPORTING CAST

Which cast could still be competitive without their star? Without Fredette’s 27.4 points per game the cougars still average 58 a game with the rest of their reserves.

 

Fredette gets a ton of help from guys like Jackson Emery, Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock who all average close to or over 10 points a game and Emery is one of the nation’s leaders in steals (2.7). The team shoots over 46% from the field and pulls down 40 rebounds per game.

 

While the UCONN reserves don’t put up the same numbers they do run very deep on their bench. Alex Oriakhi is close to a double double a game at 11 & 9 plus 2 blocks a game. Plus Walker has guys like Shabazz Napier and Charles Okwandu who are great defenders and plenty of big bodies like Roscoe Smith and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel who help wear down opponents inside.

 

Without Walker UCONN is still a tournament team, without Fredette I think the Cougars don’t have the same punch, which makes Fredette more valuable.

 

Advantage: Fredette.

IMPACT

Both teams were unranked at the beginning of the year and while Fredette and the Cougars were picked as MWC favorites the Huskies were an afterthought after a disappointing season last year.

 

Walker’s opening month including that ridiculous Maui Invitational set the tone for the Huskies season and they haven’t looked back. With the drop-offs by Syracuse and Pitt lately you can make a case that UCONN is the best team in the nation’s best conference.

If there's one guy i want with the ball late in the game it's Kemba Walker.

 

That and his late game heroics give him the bigger impact.

 

CHANCES IN THE PROS

They both have a gift and a curse. They can score in bunches, but they’re too small to do that in the NBA.

 

They’re in the same position as Stephen Curry and that is that they are Shooting Guards who will play the point in the league but need more time to learn the position.

 

While Fredette can score I question his passing skills and can he makes the guys around him better. While he shoots very well his vision is suspect and he can’t really see the floor too well.

 

Walker has a better understanding of the position and I feel can defer to his teammates more such as the Marquette game where he played wingman to Jeremy Lamb putting him in a position to get his shots.

 

Advantage: Walker

So who would I go with? Statistically Fredette is having the better season and is a machine in the open floor, but I go with Walker for player of the year.

 

Walker is averages less points per game than Fredette but there’s one thing he has that I haven’t seen yet in Fredette, that’s more of a will to win and an unshakeable confidence.

 

We’ve seen Walker struggle and have bad shooting nights and yet he still pulls through and leads UCONN to wins, Fredette hasn’t had the same challenges as Walker, which he shouldn’t fell bad about but it should be noted.

 

If there’s one player I want with the ball in his hands late in the game its Kemba Walker. When the game is on the line no matter the situation he has delivered time and time again. In the NCAA tournament, with games on the line in do or die situations that’s what matters most.

 

Either way you can’t lose though. Both men are playing great and are a joy to watch. Whoever has the unfortunate task of guarding these men I feel bad for every night because you will end up on their highlight machine. Both teams are lucky to have them.