Monday, January 19, 2009

Pitt 78, Syracuse 60

Never gets old, really. I could watch Syracuse lose at anything. Basketball, football, lacrosse ("Lacrosse, Liz Lemon!"), chess...anything.

But on to the larger point, which is Pitt. Syracuse has a fine little orange team this year, but it's simply not equipped to beat Pitt at Pitt. Even among the great teams in this conference in this great year, there are mismatches, and this game was one of them.

The amazing thing is, Syracuse has a cat that can actually play DeJuan Blair. Arinze Onuaku is as like Blair as anybody in the conference. (With the possible exception of Jeff Adrien, who scares the hell out of me. He might even scare DeJuan Blair -- I haven't had the chance to ask.) He's big and physical down low and plays with a lot of Blair's toughness and (on defense, at least) nose for the ball.

But Blair is so much more than big and tough. He's got post moves. He's got energy. He plays with the fluidity of a swing-forward. He can hit a jump shot, for goodness' sake.

And he's got that smile, which sounds like a corny thing to say but actually does matter. It's all part of his on-court persona, which is about emitting the very clear impression that he's got it all under control. The expression on his face when Onuaku shoved him out of bounds under the basket after a rebound and got teed up for it late in the first half was downright whimsical -- as if to say, "Yeah, I got you, man. You got the ball this time, but I got you."

Blair's an elite player -- the kind of player a team like Pitt needs to ascend to real Final Four contention. But one of the best things about Pitt is that, even if a guy like Onuaku plays some fantastic game and somehow neutralizes Blair, you still have to contain Sam Young. And Syracuse could not.

Pitt needs to watch those free throws -- that was scary bad in the first half -- but they have a lot going for them, not the least of which is a little bit of perimeter defense. Rautins and Flynn of Cuse were a combined 9-for-30 in this game, which is horrendous. I mean, unless you really, really don't like Syracuse.

Just sayin'.

*One other point: This game says a lot about Louisville, which didn't play in it. Pitt is excellent at wearing down an opponent. They are big, tough and physical, and they're in great shape. They can physically outlast people. And Louisville physically outlasted them on Sunday night. Yes, I still would have liked to see the Pitt-Louisville game with Blair in it the whole way (instead of limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble), but the fact remains that Louisville is scary as hell, and as dangerous as any team in here if it's getting its collective head together/ass in gear. Which it appears it is.

*Miscellaneous crap: Providence held off Cincinnati in a somewhat meaningless Bottom Seven affair. It'd be totally meaningless except I can't seem to quit Providence. I still think they have a little run, or at least an upset or two in them. But watching them gag away that game to Marquette on Saturday shook me up, and if they'd gone out tonight and lost to freaking Cincinnati, I'd have probably given up my mild but admittedly inexplicable fascination with them.

*Upcoming: The only game on the Big East schedule Tuesday is DePaul-South Florida, which is probably going to be a strong candidate for Worst Big East Game of the Year. The only interesting storyline is whether DePaul can actually win a conference game this year. This offers some semblance of an opportunity, though I wouldn't run out and bet it. The game is on ESPNU, so I may actually watch some of it. Yeah, that's right. That's how sick I am.

*Upcoming Wednesday: Villanova at UConn, Louisville at Rutgers. The former is the obviously better matchup, but I am curious to see if Louisville has any kind of hangover after the big win Sunday. They seem like a hangover-type of team, and not just because that mascot of theirs is always lying down next to the court. We've still had only one bad in-conference loss (meaning: a loss by one of the top nine to one of the bottom seven -- in this case, Notre Dame at St. John's on Jan. 3), so we're ever on the lookout. The Scarlet Knights get the next crack at it, and they'll have their undersized hands full.

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