Mar 30, 2013, 6:46 PM EST
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hollywood wouldn’t need any creative license to tell the story of the 2013 Syracuse Orange, not after everything they’ve been through to earn a trip to the Final Four. The fourth-seeded ‘Cuse knocked off No. 3 seed Marquette in the East Regional finals 55-39 on Saturday night, sending Jim Boeheim on his fourth trip to the Final Four.
Their season was done by the time the regular season ended, or so the critics would have you believe. The Orange had lost four of their last five and seven of their last 12 games. The final game of the regular season? A 61-39 mollywhopping at the hands of arch-nemesis Georgetown, the final Big East matchup that the two rivals would play before Syracuse departs for the ACC and the Hoyas depart for the Big East. The team was disjointed, having failed to find a way to incorporate James Southerland back into the offense without throwing off their rhythm.
But after a stirring run to the Big East final, where Southerland set a record for threes in a single Big East tournament and the Orange earned their revenge against Georgetown, Syracuse blew a 16 point second half lead and lost to Louisville, the tone had been set. This was a different Syracuse team, and it showed in the first weekend of the tournament. The No. 4 seed Orange beat No. 13 Montana in the opening round 81-34, following that up with a 66-60 win over No. 12 Cal to advance to the Sweet 16.
But that’s when tragedy was, thankfully, averted. Star point guard Michael Carter-Williams had his house burn down during their win over Cal, and while the Williams’ family was lucky to escape without an injury, they lost everything. The house. The trophies. The clothes. All that was left were the memories.
Carter-Williams added to those memories in DC, leading the Orange to an upset win over No. 1 seed Indiana with 24 points and following that up with a 12-point, eight-rebound and six-assists performance in the win over Marquette. He set the tone defensively as well, chipping in with nine steals while committing just two turnovers in 75 minutes of play.
He was, in a word, phenomenal.
And it would be easy to point to any number incidents — the Georgetown loss, the house fire, the blown lead against Louisville — as the turning point in the Syracuse season.
In all actuality, the change came in a practice the Sunday after the loss Georgetown.
The difference between this Michael Carter-Williams and the Michael Carter-Williams that has shot his way up, and then tumbled his way back down, NBA Draft boards earlier this season can be defined by one play that happened at the end of the first half on Saturday night.
The Syracuse offense had gone stagnant. They had made just one field goal and scored only three points over a seven minute stretch, allowing the Golden Eagles to scrap their way back from an 18-7 deficit to within 21-18. Davante Gardner had gotten matched up with James Southerland, and Carter-Williams saw it. He pulled the ball out, waving Baye Keita to the other side of the floor and and getting Southerland positioned on the right wing, 23 feet away from the rim and right in front of the Marquette bench.
Carter-Williams was being guarded by the smaller Derrick Wilson, a guy he can shoot over whenever he wants, but instead of trying to stop the bleeding on his own, he drove right, directly at Gardner, kicking the ball out to Southerland while setting a screen on the biggest Golden Eagle of them all. Southerland hit the three, and Marquette never got within one possession again.
That’s not the play he would have made back in November, especially not coming off of a career-high 24-point performance.
“It’s something I’ve learned, picking my poison,” Carter-Williams said, “when I should pass and when I should shoot. Today, I felt like I needed to pass the ball more and pick my spots when I needed to get to the basket.”
As heady as that play was, it was just a glimpse into the kind of performance that he had on Saturday night. Carter-Williams finished with 12 points, eight boards, six assists and five steals.
“Midway through the season, he really started the maturation process,” current assistant coach and former Syracuse point guard Gerry McNamara, who knows a thing or two about clutch performances in March, said. “It took him half a season to get the speed of the game down, and he was still effective. Once you get the speed down, now you can make your reads.”
“We’re starting to see that he’s really intelligent,” McNamara continued. “You see a mismatch and he’s exploited it. Assists have gone down in this tournament because he’s taking the right play. He’s not necessarily just passing for assists, he’s passing to put people in situations. Like in the Indiana game, he was the best option. We moved and spaced and his guy had trouble staying in front. And Michael’s been able to put guys or himself in situations where they can be successful.”
Carter-Williams spent the majority of the first half setting up his teammates, but when he saw Marquette sputtering early in the second half, he went for the jugular. He found CJ Fair for an and-one layup to push the lead back to 10 with just over 11 minutes left, blew by his man on the next two possessions for buckets in the paint before against finding Fair, who was fouled and hit both free throws. At that point, Syracuse was up 13 with 9:33 left on a Marquette team that had only managed to score 28 points.
At that point, the Orange-clad fans only had to wait for the fat lady to start singing.
The day the season changed for Syracuse just so happened to be when the coaches showed up late for practice.
“The clocks went back, and Boeheim didn’t realize it,” Carter-Williams said on Saturday. “[The coaches] were upstairs, and we were on the floor for like 15 minutes past practice, so the seniors and I, we called everyone together and we were like, ‘let’s just start practice.’”
So the Orange warmed up. And they stretched. And they went through their whole pre-practice routine, and there were still no coaches.
“I forgot to set my clock forward,” Boeheim said. “I was a little late. We had a meeting upstairs and when I got down they were playing 4-on-4 and playing hard. I watched them for a few minutes and it was a really good thing. I thought our practices were really good after that.”
“We know what we’re doing,” Southerland added. “We know how practices go. … It helped us go harder.”
And that, in the end, is the difference for Syracuse. They were embarrassed when they lost to Georgetown. Humiliated, and it wasn’t any easier as they saw GIFs and tweets about the throat slash that John Thompson, Jr., gave on the jumbotron during the game, or his “Kiss Syracuse goodbye” comment in the post game press conference.
But when they stepped on the practice floor on that Sunday, it was more. It was anger. The Orange were pissed.
“We competed against each other,” Carter-Williams said. “That’s what we needed. Because that competitiveness wasn’t there against Georgetown. We didn’t compete against each other. We got a chip on our shoulders.”
“Now we’ve got our chip back.”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Dec 9, 2013, 9:45 PM EST
Bryant played in its first nationally televised game on the road Monday at Notre Dame on ESPNU, and they put up a fight against the Irish in a 70-59 loss. Although Notre Dame was 6-2 entering the game, Bryant showed confidence throughout the game as Notre Dame never seemed to do what they…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:00 PM EST
Boston College’s struggles this season have been well chronicled. The Golden Eagles got thumped last week on the road at Purdue and took another loss at the Galen Center to USC this weekend. Steve Donahue’s ballclub is 3-6 now and their defense in particular has struggled this season as they’ve played a pretty difficult nonconference…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:23 PM EST
Prior to the season, every pundit for every outlet across the country will put together his or her list of players with the potential to have a breakout season. Which freshmen will have big sophomore seasons? Which seniors will finally get the chance to step into a starring role? What transfers spent their redshirt year…
Dec 9, 2013, 2:38 PM EST
Florida got a huge boost for their showdown with Kansas on Tuesday. For the first time this season, we will get a chance to see Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill team up in the back court for the Gators. Wilbekin, a senior, had been suspended for the first five games of the year. Before he…
Dec 9, 2013, 1:44 PM EST
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chaz Williams, UMass UMass has been one of the nation’s most impressive teams this season, and the reason has been the emergence of guys like Raphiael Putney, Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter. As good as those three have played, the MVP of this UMass team has been dynamic point guard Chaz Williams,…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:09 PM EST
We knew that Michigan State was banged up the way that they finished their loss to North Carolina last week. Tom Izzo expounded on those issues this week. On Monday, Izzo said that center Matt Costello will be out ”two to three weeks minimum.” Izzo hasn’t confirmed the diagnosis, but he told reporters on Monday that…
Dec 9, 2013, 10:39 AM EST
Former Rutgers player Derrick Randall is suing the university over the way he was treated during Mike Rice’s tenure as the school’s head coach. The lawsuit was filed in the state’s federal court on Friday and names Rice, former assistant coach James Martelli, the university, school president Robert Barchi, former AD Tim Pernetti, CFO Janine Purcaro, and…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:23 AM EST
Entering the season, there seemed to be a consensus top five among pundits: Michigan State, Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and Kansas. A month into the season, all five of those teams have lost at least one game. Four teams have jumped all five in our top 25 rankings: Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin and Ohio State. 1. Arizona…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:02 AM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: No. 13 Oregon 115, Ole Miss 105 (OT) Prior to Sunday the 13th-ranked Ducks hadn’t played a game away from Eugene since beating Georgetown in South Korea in their season opener, so their trip to Oxford represented a significant test. And after a Jarvis Summers three-pointer with eight tenths of a…
Dec 8, 2013, 11:06 PM EST
After scoring just ten points as a freshman in Creighton’s loss to Nebraska, senior forward Doug McDermott’s had his way with the Huskers. In each of the ensuing three meetings McDermott’s shot better than 50% from the floor, including a 33-point, eight-rebound performance in the Bluejays’ 82-67 win on Sunday night. Not to take another…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:57 PM EST
Maurice Creek’s college basketball career was destined to be short-lived. 11 games into his freshman season at Indiana, the 6-foot-4 guard from Oxon Hill, MD, was averaging 17.6 points and shooting 45.3% from three, the star of Tom Crean’s first recruiting class at Indiana that also included Jordy Hulls and Christian Watford. He was getting…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:36 PM EST
Based upon the program Andy Enfield inherited when it signed on to become the new head coach at USC, the general expectation was that the Trojans would take their lumps as they transition to the fast-paced style that resulted in FGCU reaching the Sweet 16. And that may very well be the case as the…
Dec 8, 2013, 7:57 PM EST
When it was announced that starting point guard Dominic Artis was one of two players (forward Ben Carter being the other) suspended nine games for a violation of NCAA rules, there wasn’t a great deal of consternation amongst those who follow the Oregon Ducks. Why? There’s still plenty of talent at Dana Altman’s disposal in…
Dec 8, 2013, 6:24 PM EST
George Washington did everything they could to give away a 66-52 lead in the final seven minutes against Maryland in the nightcap of the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. With Dez Wells stuck on the bench after picking up his fifth foul and the Terps on their heels thanks to a…
Dec 8, 2013, 5:27 PM EST
Just days after surviving a tough test at city rival San Diego, No. 24 San Diego State played arguably its worst half of the season against Washington on Sunday afternoon. While the Aztecs aren’t a team chock full of prolific shooters, they do have multiple athletes capable of finding quality looks both at the rim…
Dec 8, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
UCLA ended up losing its first game of the season, at the hands of undefeated Missouri, 80-71, on Saturday afternoon in Columbia. But did you see the dunk freshman guard Zach LaVine had toward the end of the first half? A Missouri player slipped near halfcourt, as the intended pass went flying by him. LaVine…
Dec 8, 2013, 2:15 PM EST
Michigan leading scorer Nik Stauskas rolled his ankle in the second half of the Wolverines’ 63-61 loss to Charlotte in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship game on Nov. 24. That ankle kept him out in a blowout win against Coppin State, and thanks to the defensive performances of Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones, Stauskas scored…
Dec 8, 2013, 1:05 PM EST
With 3.8 second left, Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans tossed his inbounds pass to Rob Loe, who drove to the bucket, but his lefty layup was blocked. The Valparaiso defense had its heads turned, allowing Mike McCall Jr. to slip past on the box out, and tipped in the game-winner as the Billikens escaped with…
Dec 8, 2013, 11:50 AM EST
Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. opened in 1971 and holds five national championship banners as well as serving as a winter home for 17,472 Hoosier fans each season. It’s one of the most iconic venues in all of college basketball, but the university is looking to improve the condition of its longtime arena, according to…
- College Basketball Talk’s Top 20 Most Improved Players 1
- College Hoops Week in Review: Wisconsin’s for real, and so is Chaz Williams 0
- Former Rutgers player Derrick Randall sues school over Mike Rice’s actions 2
- College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25 rankings 0
- Maurice Creek, George Washington proving to be a match made in heaven 0
- Professor at center of UNC’s academic fraud case to face felony charges (8)
- No. 1 Michigan State’s loss to North Carolina: Injuries, or sign of a bigger issue? (5)
- Report: Delta bumps entire flight to get Florida to UConn (3)
- Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Baylor, a trio of in-state rivalry games (3)
- Turnovers, rebounding woes plague No. 3 Kentucky again (3)