Friday Five - Fourth Edition

This is the fourth installment of “Friday Five,” a weekly column with analysis and insight on the Orange, the Big East and the rest of college basketball. Adjust your computer monitor accordingly.

February is a month of adjustments. The number of days on the calendar is known to change, Valentine’s Day can be a disaster or heaven depending on your love life, and in 2010 the Winter Olympics interrupts the normal TV programming.  Halftime Snack is on board with Adjustment Month:

The starting five:

1 -             Michigan State is in gut-check mode after getting beat handily, 67-49, at No. 16 Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The fifth-ranked Spartans have lost and mid-way thru the second half in Madison, also lost reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas to a twisted ankle (read the latest from the Detroit Free Press). Four of the next six Big Ten games are on the road and a basketball team without its point guard is like a freighter coming into the port on its own. Without the tugboat, the coach (Captain Izzo) directs more from the bench, and that handling is tiresome.

2 -            The degree of difficulty runs high for Andy Rautins lately. The stats in the last four games tell one story (7 for his last 29, 11 TOs, seven points per game), but there are some chapters you skip. The fifth-year senior is pulling double-duty on the Orange this season, the top shooter on the offensive end and the defensive leader on the other. A double agent, Jason Bourne-style is Rautins. Draws the attention of every opponent, even inducing triangle-and-two coverage (Wes Johnson being the other player denied) from some teams. Hell, Rautins is such a concern that people are taking swings at his manhood and throwing the ball off his face (“I don’t think it was intentional,” said Rautins).

3 -            Bob Huggins just debuted a transfer (6’9” Turkish post Deniz Kilicli) of his own and was that loud clicking sound the West Virginia fans investing their change in tickets to Madison Square Garden for the Big East finals. Let me just throw in my two cents.

4 -             We hear plenty of talk about Syracuse star forward Wes Johnson’s ability to bounce—the ball, off the floor, back from a bad game or just plain elevation. Halftime Snack sees Johnson perform two of the four quite well (the dribbling is shaky, especially going left), and the rest of the Orange Nation is eagerly waiting to see how Johnson comes back from that high-wire tumble against Providence ( photographer Andrew Burton snapped the photo of Johnson below and the infamous one circling the Internet).

Wes Johnson

5-             Halftime Snack made a triumphant return to the hardwood, playing in the alumni game at the University of Rochester on Saturday afternoon. Talk about adjustments: the rims seem a foot higher and Snack was bumped from his customary spot in the post, out to beyond the three-point arc. Adjustments, people: Snack scored five points and led the Grey team to a contested victory over the Blue squad. Check out this piece about legendary UR coach Mike Neer (the guy who got the job when Boeheim opted out, and returned to Syracuse) written by Jim Mandalero in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Big East weekend predictions:

Orange: Syracuse hits the toughest part of its 2009-10 schedule when Connecticut comes to the Dome on Wednesday, but this Sunday sees a trip to Ohio. The Cincinnati Bearcats (14-8, 5-5 Big East) are led by freshman sensation Lance Stephenson and have notable wins over Maryland, Connecticut and Notre Dame (plus overtime losses to Gonzaga and Xavier), but at 71 points per game will be unable to out-score SU (Syracuse 79, Cincinnati 70).

Other Big East games:

Georgetown 69, Villanova 68
West Virginia 85, St. John’s 71
Providence 82, Marquette 79
Louisville 77, Rutgers 66
Seton Hall 74, Pittsburgh 70
Connecticut 80, DePaul 65
Notre Dame 79, USF 73

National scene: Not getting around the biggest game of the weekend (Kansas 82, Texas 80). This is a possible Final Four match-up—the Big 12 is the only conference other than the mighty Big East that could bring two teams to Indianapolis. The Jayhawks are the top team in the country and its time the fans in Philly and in Onondaga County stop worrying about the top spot - there is a time and a place to decide that. Kansas is one of two teams (maybe floundering UConn) that has the size-and-speed combination to matchup with the Orange, but the Jayhawks have a senior point guard that has played in the big games, something SU lacks at this point.

Record last week: 5-4
Overall: 18-11

Stat nerd stat of the week – Please stat nerds, remember that for every action (shot, steal) there is a result (rebound, turnover) that must occur. The box score needs to balance. If the first free throw is missed, the stat gods deem an offensive deadball rebound is credited (but no team actually gets credit for the rebound). A magical floating rebound that might as well get assigned to a referee—he’s usually the one who ends up with the ball after that A.O. air ball.

They said it:You don’t make adjustments to rebound (as a coach), players make adjustments. It’s hard for a coach to make a rebound adjustment. I never learned how to do that,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim taking the sarcasm train out of the station during his post-game press conference following the win over Providence.

“I understand (Rick) Pitino's frustration (following Louisville’s game with West Virginia), but I also think that coaches overly fixate on referee errors as opposed to the dozens of things that happen during the course of a game that decide the outcome, including coaching mistakes.” Seth Davis in his “College Basketball Mailbag” posted on Feb. 3.

I’ve been to Syracuse twice and it’s snowed twice. I think there will be more snow when we leave the Dome tonight.” ESPN commentator Doug Gottlieb during SU’s win over Providence.

I wouldn’t say the same thing in Kansas,” Providence head coach Keno Davis after saying that Syracuse is the top team in the nation after his Friars fell to the Orange.

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