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Cuse's Collapse Could Kill The Whitless Wonder
February 13, 2009 - John Whittaker
As a sports fan, I'd like to think I've mellowed a lot over the years.
The David Tyree catch that beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl two years ago would have sent me completely over the fricking falls 10 years ago.
The Yankees collapse in the 2004 American League Championship Series might have made me go apoplectic when I was in college.
When I was 16, if those things had happened, I probably would have been wearing all black clothes for a month, listening to depressing music, eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and crying uncontrollably at awkward moments -- you know, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, parades and Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn movies.
Now that I've crossed into my 30s, I go through my mourning period, avoid ESPN for a couple of days and then I'm fine again.
As those of you who read this space regularly know by now, I can find the good things in a crappy Yankees season. The Pats, in a year when they didn't make the playoffs, still provided enough good moments for me to enjoy the NFL season.
But, five years after winning the program's only national championship, I spend most Syracuse basketball games this season screaming at the TV, coaching from my living room and cursing referees Tim Higgins and Jim Burr like they just kicked me in the jimmies.
At least once a game, my brother Matt calls me. We'll usually talk about what we've seen, what we think the Orange should do in the second half to either put the game away or come back, who's playing well and who's playing like holy hell (Eric Devendorf, I'm looking at you, buddy).
I think that sometime in the not too distant future, Matt will call during a game and the News Gal will be giving me CPR. Devendorf is about 2 more stupid turnovers away from giving me a Fred Sanford heart attack.
It's mid-February, the Orange have lost 6 of their last 7, haven't won on the road since the Clinton Administration, have had an embarrassing string of off-court incidents and are in very real danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
I'm not ready to call for Jim Boeheim's head - at least, not yet - but it's safe to say this team, which started with so much promise, is gnawing on my last nerve. My bald spot has grown by at least three inches this season. I have worse acne right now than I did when I was 15. I'm seeing spots, for crying out loud.
When Syracuse made it through the non-conference schedule largely unharmed, and with wins over Memphis, Florida and Kansas, I was ecstatic. A month ago, the Orange were ranked 10th in the country and seemed like a lock for March Madness.
With six games remaining in the regular season, and only two more against ranked opponents, the Orange still have time to solidify their standing in the NCAA Tournament. They could really use a win against either Marquette or Villanova, both of whom are ranked, and then beating unranked Georgetown, St. John's, Cincinnati and Rutgers.
I've readjusted my goals since December. Instead of hoping for a Sweet 16 run, now I just hope they sneak into the tournament like Lily and Robin sneaking into a high school prom. They may have to flash the chaperone at the door to get into the dance if they lose more than one of those games against unranked teams.
Boeheim has put together a talented group - Jonny Flynn is a potential NBA lottery pick. Arinze Onuaku is a potential NBA player if he can ever stay healthy for a whole season. Rick Jackson shows potential. Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins can shoot the lights out. Paul Harris is a freakish athlete. Kristof Ongenaet works and hustles like every player should.
The pieces are there - but something's missing.
The Orange are a lock for at least five turnovers a game that sixth-grade players wouldn't make. They couldn't define defense if you gave them a dictionary and a flashlight. They don't value possessions, especially at key times of a game. They have the combined basketball IQ of a mentally challenged marmoset.
What else can I say? They just don't have it this year.
I'm a big believer in the five-year grace period (for the unitiated, read this Simmons column). The Yankees' four World Series championships in five years bought them a pretty much free ticket for another 12 years. The Pats can suck until 2016 and I can't say a word.
Unfortunately for Syracuse, this is the last year of their grace period from the 2003 national championship.
I'm not asking for national titles every year -- that's not the type of program Syracuse has.
Like an old dog that just wants to be scratched between the eyes once in a while, I'd be happy with consistent NCAA Tournament trips, solid recruiting, players getting better over time rather than being stagnant or actually getting worse, being able to come back from a deficit during the Big East schedule, and playing like the team cares as much about that night's game as I do.
Against Villanova recently, the Orange looked like they would rather be licking the Liberty Bell than playing the Wildcats. Devendorf and Flynn walked back on defense while Scottie Reynolds, who's a good player but not a physical beast, blew past them like they were standing still (which they were, so it kind of worked out).
Once Connecticut took a lead on Wednesday, I stopped rooting for Syracuse to win the game and decided I'd be happy if they lost by less than 15 points. I knew they weren't coming back.
Those things shouldn't happen. Ever.
Coach B has a good recruiting class coming in next year, and the only significant loss this year is Kristof Ongenaet. While we'll miss the Belgian Waffle, the guys coming in should fill his role just fine. Brandon Triche looks like a nice addition at guard, James Southwell, a 6-6 forward from Massachusetts, should fit in well with freshman Kris Joseph.
Maybe they'll get the ship righted this year. Maybe Coach Boeheim and Bernie Fine can finally get through to this group and make them realize the opportunity they have right now to be a potentially memorable team. Maybe next year will really be better.
Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Maybe, I'll just beat myself in the head with a tackhammer and save them the trouble of that heart attack.
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I'm about one more dumb Eric Devendorf turnover from a three-state robbery spree. The kid's a gifted player, but travels too much and must be color blind, because he really likes throwing the ball to the other team.