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Bob Matthews' Column

SU CAN NEGATE A BRUTAL LOSS WITH A WIN AT DUKE

 
SU CAN NEGATE A BRUTAL LOSS WITH A WIN AT DUKE

SU CAN NEGATE A BRUTAL LOSS WITH A WIN AT DUKE

BILLS, SABRES FANS TAKE ANOTHER HIT

A FEW JUICY DAYTONA 500 PROPS FROM LAS VEGAS

SUGGESTION TO THE BILLS: FOURTH-AND-SHORT, GO FOR IT!

Syracuse University’s 91-89 overtime thriller over Duke Feb 1 was an instant classic and one of the greatest games ever at the Carrier Dome.

Wednesday night’s 62-59 overtime loss to Boston College was an instant made-SU-fans-sick and probably the most disappointing loss ever at the Carrier Dome.

SU was on an amazing 25-0 run and the near-unanimous No. 1 team in nation. Coach Jim Boeheim, his players and Orange Nation were basking in the spotlight.

Most of us figured a loss was on the horizon – probably Saturday at Duke or Monday at Maryland or Saturday, March 1, at Virginia. SU hadn’t been sharp lately, particularly on offense. Lack of depth was a concern.

But honestly, who thought lowly Boston College would pop SU’s undefeated bubble? The Eagles were 6-19 (including 2-10 in the ACC). SU got off to a sluggish start at BC before going on a 16-1 run en route to a 69-59 victory a little more than one month ago.

SU obviously is the superior team. It isn’t even close. In a pick-up game involving players on the two rosters, the Orange would go no worse than 1-2-3-4-6. SU could have three players picked in the first round of June’s NBA draft. BC might have a player or two capable of playing pro ball in Italy, Israel or Russia.

So how did SU lose?

BC’s strategy was obvious – milk the clock to shorten the game and hit from 3-point range. Even then, a victory was improbable. SU opened as the 16-point favorite. The line dropped to 13 ½  as savvy bettors figured a slow-paced game would reduce SU’s victory margin.

BC’s game plan worked – give the Eagles full credit for that. They played the boring style that was their only chance. They lost possession several times without attempting a shot. And they were 11-for-22 from three-point range.

The final key to BC success was a poor performance from the Orange.

Was SU looking ahead to Saturday’s rematch with Duke? Was SU’s luck due to run out in a close game?

Whatever the reason, SU was bad. The Orange shot poorly (season-worst 32.3 percent, including 2x12 from three-point range). They allowed a few easy buckets inside. Perhaps worst of all, they were outrebounded (40-37) by a smaller and less physically-gifted opponent.

What did unexpected loss cost SU? Nothing – IF the Orange bounce back by defeating host Duke on Saturday. It won’t be easy. Before Thursday night’s 74-66 road loss to North Carolina, Duke was on a 9-1 roll. The only loss was at SU Feb. 1. Three Duke players fouled out, including star freshman Jabari Parker, who played only 26 minutes. Duke was called for 25 fouls (SU 15). Duke was 12x17 from the foul line (SU was 26x32).

SU probably would need to play its best game of the season to beat Duke – just after playing its worst game of the season in the home loss to Boston College.

If SU can pull off that turnaround, it would deserve to retain the No. 1 spot in next week’s college basketball rankings.

I think the mission is improbable but not impossible.

My pick: Duke 73, Syracuse 64.

SABRES FANS TAKE A HIT FROM THE HOCKEY NEWS

It isn’t easy being a fan of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres.

The Bills are 0-4 in Super Bowls and haven’t made the playoffs in the past 14 years, the longest active futility streak in the NFL.

As if Sabres fans haven’t had it tough enough this season, The Hockey News recently posted the “NHL’s Top 10 Worst-Suffering Fan Bases.” Guess which team was No. 1 – the Sabres (followed by Edmonton and the New York Islanders – two teams with impressive histories, at least).

Jason Kay wrote, “The Sabres are the bride left at the altar, jilted relentlessly by oh-so-close teams and oh-so promising ownership. They’ve made the Stanley Cup finals twice in their 44-year history, the second setback still stinging 15 years later. Western New Yorkers cling to 1999’s no-goal fiasco like a badge of honor, some forgetting that it was Game 6 of a series in which Dallas had been the better team and held a 3-2 edge. Even if Brett Hull’s controversial goal had been disallowed, there was a decent chance the Stars, who’d outshot the Sabres 199-152 through six games, would have prevailed later in Game 6 or Game 7 in Texas. No matter. The bitter memory understandably gives Sabres Nation something to remain gleefully indignant about.”

There is hope on the horizon, however slight and distant. The Bills are on the upgrade, with only one position holding them back – unfortunately, that spot is quarterback. Maybe EJ Manuel is the answer. The Sabres may be the NHL’s worst team, but they have a batch of stored-up drafty picks to rebuild with.

DAYTONA 500 PROPOSITION BETS

Here are a few of the proposition wagers offered in Las Vegas for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (cortesy of LVH SuperBook):

Jimmie Johnson ($100 to win $100) to out finish Matt Kenseth ($110/$100)

Jeff Gordon ($120/$100) to out finish Kasey Kahne ($100/$100)

Kyle Busch ($110/$100) to out finish Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($110/$100)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($110/$100) to out finish Danica Patrick ($110/$100)

Winning car number: 1 to 23 (bet $145 to win $100)...24 to 99 ($100/$125)

Total cautions (over/under) 7.5 ($110/$100)

Winning car number will be odd ($100 to win $200)...even ($240/$100)

Winning manufacturer will be Chevy ($125 to win $100)...Ford $100 to win $350)...Toyota ($100 to win $200).

FOURTH-AND-SHORT: GO FOR IT

The current issue of ESPN The Magazine is The Analytics Issue.

 In my opinion, the most awesome statistical revelation I saw is that “the average NFL team sacrifices 0.5 wins each season by not going for it more often on fourth down.”

 We all know that most NFL coaches are reluctant to take risks. If I were the coach of an NFL team that hadn’t made the playoffs in the past 14 years, I would consider becoming the pioneer of going for fourth-and-short from anywhere inside midfield.

Drastic, yes –by current standards. But the numbers strongly suggest that the overall risk would be worth the overall reward – particularly if you have a defense strong enough to bail you out. I think Buffalo might fill that bill.

 

SHORT SHOTS

Syracuse fans are hoping the Sports Illustrated cover jinx holds up this week: The cover story is “The Education of Jabari Parker” by Jeff Benedict.

I was very slow picking this up, but I think it is neat that SU center Rakeem Christmas wears No. 25.

Thumbs down to Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon for ripping New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long’s mild criticism of former Yankee star Robinson Cano’s lack of hustle at the plate on ground balls to the infield. It will be interesting to see how McClendon reacts if Cano fails to hustle as the highest-paid player on his Mariners.

If Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his fiancée slug it out in public in casinos, I’m a little worried about what might happen when they’re alone at home.

I continue to wish the No More CasiNOS Coalition, backed back Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack and Western Regional Off-Track Betting, would stop implying that there already are casinos in Greater Rochester. I’m pretty sure the Senecas won’t get their casino in Henrietta and that our area will forever be the only large city in New York state without a real casino.  I really don’t know if that is good or bad.

UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey is favored (bet $450 to win $100) over live underdog Sara McMann (bet $100 to win $350) at UFC 170 Saturday at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The safest prediction: Rousey by armbar submission.

Evan Turner’s trade from the Philadelphia 76ers to Indiana was a good deal for the Pacers and a better deal for Turner. Turner gives Indiana a better chance to upset Miami in the playoffs and Turner escapes a 76ers team that figures to be rebuilding for years...by the way, the No. `10 pick in the 2010 NBA draft was Paul George, of California State University, Fresno, by Indiana. George is a possible All-NBA First Team selection this season.

The Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has announced there will be a live thoroughbred meet at the picturesque Fort Erie border track (two miles from the Peace Bridge) this season.  Fort Erie raced 41 days last year (May 26 to Oct. 15) and there were fears that the 116-year-old track would be permanently closed.

Former NBA star Tracy McGrady is hoping to become a baseball pitcher. Among the few athletes who were both NBA and Major League Baseball players was the late Dick Ricketts. He had the distinction of playing for the NBA Rochester Royals (averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in the 1956-57 NBA season) and the International League Rochester Red Wings (12-9, 3.66 ERA, 3 shutouts in the 1957 season) in the same year. He also played for the NBA St. Louis Hawks and the MLB St. Louis Cardinals (1-6, 5.82 ERA in 12 games in 1959). He was a long-time Eastman Kodak employee and died in Rochester in 1988.

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