ORANGE 3-6 FINISH WAS LESS SURPRISING THAN 25-0 START

 

CAN KNIGHTHAWKS KNOCK OFF UNBEATEN EDMONTON?

 

SWEET 16 ODDS

 

PUIG ALREADY IN HOT WATER

 

If someone told you, when Syracuse was 25-0 and the top-ranked college basketball team in the nation, that the Orange wouldn’t reach the NCAA tournament’s  Sweet 16, you wouldn’t have thought it possible.

 

But it happened. And players at Wichita State, Kansas, Villanova, Duke and Creighton know how it feels, too.

 

All things considered, SU’s 3-6 finish and quick exit from the NCAA tournament weren’t nearly as surprising as the team’s amazing start and three-week stay atop the national rankings.

 

This season’s Orange will be recalled as a gritty and – it turned out – overachieving team.

 

The flaws were obvious – inconsistent perimeter shooting, no offensive punch down low and lack of depth.

 

Coach Jim Boeheim and his players overcame those deficiencies for a long time but finally ran out of gas.

 

 What SU did best this season was play defense. Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone defense took the Orange a long way.

 

But I can’t help but wonder how SU might have fared playing a more wide-open game.

 

The zone resulted in slow-poke basketball more often than not -- for probing opponents and SU.

 

One big plus in playing a zone defense is that players are less likely to be in foul trouble. With a team short on depth – such as SU – that’s a plus.

 

But I wonder how SU might have fared this season at least experimenting with a man-to-man defense to open up the game. I wonder if future NBA players E.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis would’ve thrived in a faster-paced scenario. My guess is yes.

 

In slow-paced, low-scoring games, the Orange relied heavily on long-range gunner Trevor Cooney – probably too heavily. Was it fatigue or pressure that got to him? I don’t know. But when he stopped hitting, SU stopped winning.

 

The Orange warmed up a frigid winter for sports fans in central and western New York. They’ll be fondly remembered.  28-6 is nothing to scoff at.

 

But I wonder if they’d have been even more entertaining – and have had more fun – if they had played run and gun, at least every now and then. I wonder if Grant and Ennis might be more inclined to return if Boeheim put a little more emphasis on offense and a little bit less on his trademark zone defense. Would flashy recruits be even more inclined to enter the program?

 

 I’m not griping. I’m only asking. What do you think?

 

KNIGHTHAWKS FACE BIG TEST VS. EDMONTON

 

Can the two-time defending National Lacrosse League champion Rochester Knighthawks draw 10,000-plus to the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial?

 

We’ll find out Saturday night for what is one of the most-anticipated regular-season games in Knighthawks history: Edmonton at Rochester, 7:30 p.m.

 

If you’ve never seen a Knighthawks home game in person, this would be a good time. The atmosphere figures to be special.

 

Edmonton mostly struggled in the NLL until this season. The Rush became the first team in NLL history to start 9-0 and now are 11-0 after an easy 14-5 home win over the Buffalo Bandits Friday night. The attendance at Rexall Place was 7,071 – not bad for Edmonton. The Rush have outscored opponents  by 49 goals (134-85). Rochester is next best at +34 (138-104).

 

Rochester is 9-3. All three losses were by one goal on the road, including 8-7 in overtime in Edmonton Feb. 1.

 

The Knighthawks were idle last weekend but took over first place in the East Division because the Buffalo Bandits (now 8-4) had a weekend to forget. They lost 14-5 Friday in Edmonton. Then they lost 10-9 in overtime Sunday at the Minnesota Swarm. It was the first home win of the season for the Swarm, who forced 31 turnovers.

 

NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT BY THE NUMBERS

 

Entering the Sweet 16, Las Vegas favorites are 36-12 outright and 25-22-1 against the point spread…Higher-seeded teams are 34-14 against lower-seeded teams and 24-23-1 against the point spread. The wizards of odds know what they’re doing.

 

Remaining seeds:

 

1 – Arizona, Florida, Virginia

 

2 – Michigan, Wisconsin

 

3 – Iowa State

 

4 – Louisville, Michigan, San Diego State, UCLA

 

6 – Baylor

 

7 – Connecticut

 

9 – Kentucky

 

10 – Stanford

 

11 – Dayton, Tennessee

 

Won-loss records by seeds:

 

1 – 7-1

 

2 – 6-2

 

3 – 4-3

 

4 – 8-0

 

5 – 1-4

 

6 – 3-3

 

7 – 4-3

 

8 – 4-3

 

8 – 1-4

 

10 – 2-3

 

11 – 4-2

 

12 – 3-4

 

13 – 0-4

 

14 – 1-4

 

15 – 0-4

 

16 – 0-4.

 

Sweet 16 by conference :

 

Big Ten (3) – Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin

 

Pac-12 (3) – Arizona, Stanford, UCLA

 

SEC (3) – Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee

 

Big 12 (2) – Baylor, Iowa State

 

American  (2) – Connecticut, Louisville

 

Atlantic Coast Conference – Virginia

 

Atlantic-10 – Dayton

 

Mountain West – San Diego State.

 

There have been four overtime games and 14 games decided by 5 points or less.

 

Odds to go all the way (LVS SuperBook) – Florida 7x2…Michigan State 7x2…Louisville 7x2…Arizona 4x1…Virginia 10x1…Kentucky 18x1…Michigan 18x1…Wisconsin 18x1…Baylor 25x1…Tennessee 25x1…UCLA 25x1…Connecticut 30x1…Iowa State 30x1…San Diego State 50x1…Stanford 50x1…Dayton 75x1.

 

Sweet 16 game odds – Stanford 3 over Dayton…Florida 5 over UCLA…Wisconsin 3 over Baylor…Arizona 6 over San Diego State…Michigan 1 ½ over Tennessee…Louisville 5 over Kentucky…Iowa State 1 over Connecticut…Michigan State 1 over Virginia.

 

 

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

What a difference a few weeks had made for the Rochester Americans. Remember when they had one of the top two of three defenses in the 30-team American Hockey League and maybe just enough firepower to be a at least a long-shot candidate to win the franchise’s first Calder Cup since 1996? A trade, a season-ending injury and recalls to Buffalo have popped that bubble. The new realistic goal is to make the playoffs. A victory in the first round now is a long shot.

 

I don’t recall a young baseball player so full of himself as Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has awesome potential and a woeful attitude. In Saturday’s victory over Arizona in Australia, he had three hits, two glaring base-running gaffes and begged out of playing in the field in the bottom of the ninth inning after striking out and “hurting” himself in the top of the inning….Puig is a fascinating player to watch and follows, but for not all the right reasons.

 

I like the New York Jets quarterback situation (Geno Smith and Michael Vick) better than Buffalo’s (EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis), but I understand why the Bills passed on Vick. Every time Manuel struggled, fans and media would be calling for Vick. There won’t be nearly as many folks screaming for Lewis. And Lewis takes hits better than Vick at this stage of his career.

 

Believe It Or Not: Phil Jackson is fifth on the New York Knicks list for career games played: Patrick Ewing (1,039), Walt Frazier (759), Bill Bradley (742), Carl Braun (740) and Jackson (732).

 

After Sunday’s 0-for-3, Derek Jeter was 5-for-44 (.114) this spring (with four singles and one double).Who isn’t rooting for him? But at age 39 and coming off ankle surgeries, there is cause for cconcern. The Yankees flat out released future Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto during the 1956 season. That isn’t going to happen to Jeter. He has too much pride to hang on long enough for the Yankees to force him off the field.