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Insider

Syracuse winning with team game

2/5/2010

As we head into a weekend packed with hoops, here are some rumblings and grumblings around the college basketball universe ...

• BYU's Jimmer Fredette versus UNLV's switching man-to-man should be a good matchup at the Thomas & Mack Center. Tre'von Willis nearly carried the Rebs to a road win in Provo, Utah, earlier this season while Fredette was recovering from mono, but the Jimmer is fully healthy now and the tables might be turned. Willis had 24 points and six rebounds in that game, but his seven turnovers were huge as BYU escaped 77-73. UNLV must find a way to get the game a little helter-skelter with its on-the-ball pressure because it lacks a go-to inside scorer. Also keep an eye on BYU's Jonathan Tavernari. He doesn't get the publicity that Fredette does, but he is equally important as a face-up 4.

• In A-10 action, Temple travels to Richmond to take on the red-hot Spiders. Richmond has won five of six and is unbeaten at home, and although Kevin Anderson has been the team's most consistent scorer within its Princeton-like attack, David Gonzalvez and Justin Harper can each help carry the load.

• Texas A&M stunned Missouri on the road Tuesday night, and the Aggies return home with needed confidence as red-hot Baylor comes to Reed Arena. Khris Middleton finally gave Aggies coach Mark Turgeon the shooting against the Tigers that Turg believed he could provide, and Ray Turner had a Dash Harris-like dunk to energize the Aggies, but Baylor is a very confident team after beating Texas and crushing Iowa State. Bryan Davis versus Ekpe Udoh is worth the price of admission, as Udoh is longer and better on the perimeter. But Davis is physical and uses positioning to seal off his man.

After seeing Syracuse in person Tuesday night a full three months after my first glance at the current Big East co-favorite (with Nova), I thought some insight about its seven-man squad would come in handy.

• Although the Orange go only seven deep, they have essentially three different looks based on lineup combinations. There's big -- with Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku, Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and either point guard. There's small -- with Johnson, Rautins, both point guards and Kris Joseph. Then there's the normal hybrid look of Joseph, Wes, a big, a point guard and Rautins. The Orange are almost three teams in one.

• Johnson still tends to settle for jumpers, as he is not a great ball handler. He does, however, have maybe the smallest ego I have seen in a college superstar in quite a while. Even before he stiffened up because of his somersault on Tuesday against Providence, he showed why this team is remarkably unselfish. Four minutes before the game, a Cuse alum brought her daughter literally onto the court for his autograph as he went through layup lines. Johnson calmly walked over, signed one of the famous "Shut It Down" T-shirts, took a picture with the daughter (who started to cry as though he were Michael Jackson), went back into layup lines and went about his business. The town is in love with this team and his gracious personality.

• Onuaku's conditioning still limits him, but he can be a dominant weapon at both ends until he tires. Onuaku turns over his left shoulder almost exclusively and plays below the rim when he tires, but he is a massive presence who gives the Orange a legit high-low option to score inside.

• Syracuse runs about only three or four sets, but each is well-spaced based on personnel. When Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine score a little, they can become almost unguardable as Joseph, Johnson, Rautins and Onuaku can all handle their own business when given the ball in their comfort zone.

• Marquette might have had the best game plan with a triangle-and-two defense against Cuse, and I think more teams will make Jardine and Triche beat them from the outside. But the biggest issue is how well they score off a miss or a steal. Although the Cuse do not have one great passer, they all play unselfishly, and with Rick Jackson as a solid passer from the low post, the sharing comes from many angles.

• To beat the zone, the ball must be reversed and then moved into the high post or "short corner." But beware, the bigs trap hard in the short corner, and you must be strong with the ball.

• We make a huge deal about signing day and how many McDonald's All-Americans a coach brings home, yet the Cuse are clearly a better team this year without one.

Other tidbits from around college hoops.

• Although USC and coach Kevin O'Neill fired team manager Stan Holt after they landed in Los Angeles, they have given him his job back. Holt, you may have heard, received a technical foul against Oregon in The Pit on Jan. 30. USC was down two points before the T, but Oregon then went on a 13-3 run and Holt received much of the blame. Oregon's students chanted "You're fired!" and "Cry, cry, cry," and Holt was said to have been fired as soon as USC touched down at LAX. Why was he reinstated? Apparently several Pac-10 coaches believe that the official who assessed the technical foul, Bobby McRoy, is the league's new Dave Libbey. Libbey, who is now the coordinator of officials in the West Coast Conference, was one of the most quick-triggered officials in the country and was generally disliked for his arrogance. McRoy refused to tell O'Neill what Holt said. Holt, apparently with support from others at the end of the bench, said he never cursed at McRoy.

Ray Penn should play some for Oklahoma State as it travels to Texas Tech. Penn's absence because of a knee injury made OSU look lost against Mizzou's press. It also kept a struggling Keiton Page on the floor far longer than Travis Ford would have liked versus Texas in the Cowboys' home loss to the Horns on Monday night.

• Kansas coach Bill Self used Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed in overtime instead of Tyshawn Taylor and Xavier Henry. Henry has sat in big spots during road games such as against Kansas State, and it appears obvious that Self trusts his veterans more than the timid Taylor and inexperienced Henry. I have seen three scouting reports that essentially say Henry is soft, especially on defense, and will take untimely shots if he does not get touches. Although KU is a clear favorite to win the Big 12 and get to the Final Four, I do not believe it can win a national title with Taylor and Henry both on the bench. February will be a very telling month for the Jayhawks.

• Do not be stunned if South Florida makes the NCAA tourney. Dominique Jones has been annihilating the Big East of late and doing it without his wingman, Gus Gilchrist. If South Florida can simply win its home games and beat DePaul on the road, it will have 10 Big East wins, and a win over Notre Dame or Marquette on the road would make it almost a lock with the pillowlike bubble.

• Who is to blame for UConn's season? Everyone. Blame the fans for their expectations after the team lost its best defensive weapon in the college game, their leader and a virtual double-double machine when Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien all moved on. Blame the staff for not landing better incoming talent and passing on Tim Abromaitis a couple of years ago. Abromaitis' dad played at UConn, and the Notre Dame forward was a thinner version of the 6-foot-8 shooter he has become, but think how well he would fit with the current Huskies. Blame Jerome Dyson, whose untimely foul on a 3-pointer versus Marquette cost them a game. Blame Kemba Walker, who can be a turnover machine and seems to lack the leadership that the staff believes he has in him. Blame Stanley Robinson for trying to outjump opponents instead of boxing them out. Blame coach Jim Calhoun for continuing to push the envelope despite his health.

• Lastly, 96 teams in the tournament is a joke. Period. Everyone knows it. Although the NCAA and its coaches say that they want more kids to experience the NCAA tournament -- and I believe they mean it to be true -- is that really what it is about?

First, the tournament is essentially perfect. Six games, three weekends and usually about two teams, at most, feel they got the shaft. If 96 teams were the answer, how rewarding would it really be for a kid to reach the tournament, and would the same reverence be paid to teams and players who made the dance? The answer is obviously no. The dance is not a participation trophy; it is a reward for a season that earned a team the right to keep playing. In fact, any team outside the Ivy League can reach the tourney now, as Championship Week provides the ability for the worst regular seasons to go away simply by continuing to win.

Additionally, coaches like to point to the addition of the 100 or so new teams to college hoops as a reason that more teams are deserving of a dance card. Although there is no doubt that parity is more pronounced than ever, there would have to be a seismic change for those teams to even be considered during selection time. The truth is that this proposal comes down to two things. One is money for the NCAA, the other is coaches feeling like they could keep their jobs more easily in a power conference, since we all know that no matter what is said, the numbers tell us that more big-conference schools would get in before Seattle U. ever received an at-large bid.

The NCAA needs to keep its balance sheets the same to survive the economic downturn and the effects of Title IX. Nonrevenue-generating sports and the NCAA as a whole depend on the revenue from the tourney. Although CBS has been losing money the past couple of years, its deal is back-loaded and would be hemorrhaging money the next three if the deal stays as is. Thus, for the NCAA to get a 10-year deal worth even more money, it has to get more games to make the product more valuable.

As for coaches, there is generally the belief that making the field means new life for a season and another year on the job. Although most times that is true, it is not always -- just ask former Arkansas coach Stan Heath. The truth is, just like players and fans would value an NCAA bid differently, so would administrators. The dance is an elitist event, and it rewards an entire body of work. Ninety-six teams would simply reward marginal performance over a 30-game schedule.

Sixty-eight teams would make sense with a play-in day between the "big six" conference schools and mid-major schools. Oh, and if the NCAA wants to keep the NIT, why not have it as a consolation 64-team tourney with the next 32 and 32 losers? You mean to tell me that Wake Forest, Cal, Ohio State, Tennessee, VCU and Cornell would not have made a good tourney with Davidson, Saint Mary's, Penn State and Baylor?

Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com. "The Doug Gottlieb Show" can be heard weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com.