First Take:’Cuse Has Depth
Why Billy Donovan thinks the Orange can win it all.
After watching his Florida Gators fall 85-73 to Syracuse, Billy Donovan told reporters that based on what he has seen thus far, he feels Orange have what it takes to win a national championship. A little early in the season for March predictions? Of course it is. Is there some truth to what Donovan said? Yes there is, and last night was a perfect example of why.
Led by a career-high 19 points from big man Rick Jackson, the ‘Cuse improved to 9-0, defeating their third ranked opponent of the season, all of which have been by double figures – an impressive resume to say the least. What makes Syracuse potentially devastating come Tournament time is the incredible depth and balance they’ve show so far this season. Jackson became the sixth different player to lead the team in scoring last night, again its only been nine games. Entering the season pundits and fans could only speak about the abundance of talent and depth that teams like Kansas and Texas possessed (I was one of them) and while Jim Boeheim’s squad may not feature the length and athleticism the Longhorns do, or theimpressive resumes of the Jayhawks reserves, the Orange have a well stocked kitchen.There likely isn’t a more well rounded team in the Big East, at least at this point in the season. We already know the ability that Syracuse has to burn teams in the open floor transition game with Wesley Johnson, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Tiche leading the way. Andy Rautins has been lights out from beyond the arc this season and if Jackson can continue his solid play, that gives the Orange a sizeable duo in the middle with Arinze Onuaku as well.
Florida, for its part, proved in defeat that it is still a very good team and one that can challenge – and I stress that word – challenge in the SEC. Before Wildcat nation goes in an uproar, I don’t think the Gators are going to take down Kentucky, but they won’t roll over and die either. Kenny Boynton looked solid in the second half while bombing from the perimeter and Chandler Parsons had in my opinion was one of his best games at the college level. I still believe he is the X-factor on this team. Boynton and Erving Walker are solid in the backcourt, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin are strong inside, Parsons has that mismatch potential that needs to be actualized in order for Florida to be a legitimate threat.
Michigan State had little trouble with Oakland, beating the Grizzlies 88-57, but here’s a name for all of you draft nuts to remember: Keith Benson. A 6-11, 225-pound junior center with a big wingspan, Benson has been one of the most productive centers in the country to start the year, posting averages of 17.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. As far as his audition on a major stage, how about 21 points and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Spartans, and 20 and 6 with 4 blocks a couple of weeks ago against Kansas.
How about Miami (OH) hanging tough with #19 Cincinnati, falling 63-59. The Redhawks seem to make a habit of this, every season giving a ranked opponent a run for their money. Overall, not a great game for the Bearcats by any stretch of the imagination, save for the 17 and 8 from Lance Stephenson. The jury is still out with me for Born Ready, due mainly to consistency. The talent and potential are there, no question about it, but I think people were expecting either a boom or a bust with the high school phenom, instead we’ve gotten a series of peaks and valleys. He certainly hasn’t been a ball dominating demon that some thought he might become, but we’re still waiting for that signature game. He’s only a freshman and he’s only played seven games, so maybe that’s asking too much of him. With Cinci’s next two games against Xavier and UAB, it’ll be a good chance to see if Lance can build on his season-high scoring performance.
I did a double take when I passed the Northeastern vs. Rhode Island box score and spotted a familiar name – Matt Janning. I remember covering the CAA Tournament a few years ago and being impressed by the swingman’s ability off the dribble and his hustle at the other end of the floor, I just couldn’t believe he was still in college. Janning to me is the Colonial’s version of Drew Neitzel, great player who just won’t go away even if it seems like they’ve been playing for a decade – technically it’s called Nate James syndrome, but he wasn’t half the player Neitzel was. Back to my original point though, Janning is have a solid season and paced Northeastern with 21 points in their three point loss to the Rams, who by the way have sprung to a 7-1 record. The more I look at the A-10 standings, the more I realize how tough this conference is going to be once the schedule gets underway. Charlotte, Rhode Island and Richmond have all done better than expected out of the gate and sit at 7-1. Temple, Dayton and Duquesne are all right behind, with Xavier and Saint Joseph’s sitting towards the bottom of the pack. All of those teams are capable of doing some damage in the conference, and I don’t expect Joe’s to continue floundering as they have been; Phil Martelli is too good of a coach.
Looking ahead to the weekend there are plenty of chances to catch ranked teams on TV. Kansas, Kentucky, Purdue and Wisconsin all get national games, with my attention going to the Boilermakers who will take on Alabama. The marquee games of the day will be Georgetown visiting Washington which will be aired on Fox Sports thankfully, and for those of you who can roll out of bed before noon on the weekend, make sure to watch Ohio State at Butler – the most pivotal game of the day. The Buckeyes will get their first major test without Evan Turner and the Bulldogs are in major need of a signature win to prove they weren’t preseason hype only.
As for tonight, you know the drill, it’s Friday, so it’s all about the NBA. Have a great weekend everyone.