Matthews: A Fitting Finale To A Disappointing Syracuse Season

A FITTING FINALE TO A DISAPPOINTING SYRACUSE SEASON

The basketball season ended Thursday night in fitting fashion for Jim Boeheim’s men’s basketball team – Baylor 78, Syracuse 69 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Orange finished 20-14 and the team’s flaws were evident to the bitter end.

SU lacked depth. Frank Howard’s suspension made a bad situation worse. Only seven players saw action Thursday night and if you blinked, you might have missed freshman guard Jalen Carey’s brief appearance. One quick turnover and he was banished to the bench.

Tyus Battle, coming off a sore back that sidelined him for two games, had to try to replace Howard at point guard. Battle is a scorer more than a playmaker.

Four SU starters played at least 38 minutes and it showed. The team was outscored 21-12 in the final 9:47.

All season long, the Orange needed to have more than two or three players play well to beat a decent opponent. It seldom happened and it certainly didn’t happen against 2 ½-point underdog Baylor.

Elijah Hughes was excellent Thursday night (25 points and 6-for-11 from three-point range) and Paschal Chukwu was mostly effective in his role. Oshae Brissett was OK. He had 14 points but didn’t attempt a free throw. Buddy Boeheim (0-for-6 in 39 minutes) and Malek Dolezaj were non-factors. Tyus Battle had 16 points but missed 9 of his 15 shots from the floor and was short on most of his attempts.

SU shot better than usual (including 12-for-29 from three-point range) but Baylor shot much better. The Bears had fun ripping the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense apart: 28-for-52 (53.8 percent), including 16-for-34 (47.1 percent). Baylor drove the lane and kicked the ball out to open shooters who made their shots.

Both teams played zone in the first half and got burned by perimeter shooters. Baylor mixed defenses in the second half and it was effective. SU stuck with the zone – of course – and the Bears capitalized.

SU trailed by one point at halftime but came up short in the second half. We saw that script frequently in SU losses this season.

Baylor’s reward is a probable lopsided loss Saturday against potent Gonzaga. SU can watch the mismatch on TV.

Maybe next season – with a new true point guard, more depth, a quicker tempo on offense and maybe even a touch of man-to-man defense when appropriate – SU’s record will be better and the season will last a little bit longer.

RYAN O’REIILY ISN’T SINGING THE BLUES NOW

The St. Louis Blues are looking good in the early returns on last summer’s blockbuster trade with Buffalo for center Ryan O’Reilly.

The Sabres moved O’Reilly because (1) Everyone knew major roster moves were needed after Buffalo had the NHL’s worst-record last season (2) He said some unkind – but sort of accurate -- things about the team late in the season (3) He was on the verge of a $7.5 million roster bonus (4) St. Louis made what many observers considered a generous trade offer: veteran centers Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka,highly-regarded 20-year-old center prospect Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in 2019 and a second-round pick in 2021. The Blues also paid O’Reilly’s $7.5 roster bonus.

O’Reilly is having a terrific season for the Blues and Sabres fans are feeling the blues regarding the trade.

St. Louis is 38-27-8 and likely to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. O’Reilly leads St. Louis in scoring (26 goals + 43 assists for 69 points in 74 games) and plus/minus at +22 (he was minus-23 with Buffalo last season). On the power play, he has 5 goals and 15 assists. He has four game-winning goals. As always, he’s among the league’s best faceoff men (57.4 percent). And he’s only 28 years old.

The three centers acquired by Buffalo for O’Reilly haven’t done much for the Sabres this season: a combined 14 goals, 14 assists, and a plus-minus of -42 in a total of 150 games.

Patrick Berglund – 2 goals and 2 assists in 23 games before happily returning to Sweden.

Vladimir Sobotka – 5 goals and 7 assists in 65 games.

Tage Thompson – 7 goals and 5 assists in 62 games; Calder Cup-eligible for the Rochester Amerks.

The draft picks might pan out, Thompson has flashed potential and the money saved by trading O’Reiily helped to sign Jeff Skinner...but for now, O’Reilly and his Blues got much the best of the big trade.

ZACH REDMOND: EDDIE SHORE AWARD UPDATE

Zach Redmond has a good chance to end Rochester’s long drought for the Eddie Shore Award.

The award for the American Hockey League’s outstanding defenseman began for the 1958-59 season, and Rochester player-coach Steve Kraftcheck was the inaugural winner. The Amerks had another Shore Award winner in 1965 –the great Al Arbour.

Rochester has had many very stellar defensemen through the years but only Kraftcheck and Arbour won the Shore Award.

The voters usually favor offensive-minded defenseman.

The four highest-scoring AHL defensemen (and probable favorites for the Shore Award) this season are:

1—John Gilmour (Hartford) – 66 games; 53 points (20 goals + 33 assists); plus/minus minus-8...He was recalled by the New York Rangers this week and is expected to finish the season in the NHL.

2—Zach Redmond (Rochester) – 53 games; 49 points (21 goals + 28 assists); plus/minus +13

3—Aaron Ness (Hershey) – 61 games; 47 points (4 goals + 43 assists); plus/minus +16

4—Ethan Prow (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) – 63 games; 46 points (17 goals + 29 assists); plus/minus +25.

HOW GOOD WAS ICHIRO SUZUKI?

Ichiro Suzuki at age 45 announced his retirement as a player on Thursday before playing one last game with the Seattle Mariners. He went 0-for-4 and was removed from the game to a rousing standing ovation from the capacity crowd at the Tokyo Dome.

I suspect that MLB will waive Ichiro’s token appearances in the two-game series in Japan and that he’ll be eligible for baseball’s Hall of Fame in five years.

Is Ichiro a legitimate Hall of Famer? Of course. On the first ballot? Probably. Unanimous? Probably not.

Ichiro arrived from Japan at age 27 in 2001, when he earned American League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors and batted .350 to win the American League batting crown. He was an excellent MLB player for 10 years. He batted far above .300 and had at least 200 hits every season, played in 10 All-Star Games and won 10 Gold Gloves for fielding. In 2004, he won his second batting crown (.370) and amassed a MLB-record 262 hits.

If Ichiro had retired after 10 MLB seasons, his final career numbers (.311 batting average; 3,089 hits; 1,420 runs; 117 HRs; 509 stolen bases in 626 attempts) would’ve been even more impressive. From 2011 through 2018 he was mostly an ordinary player and hanging on. He never again hit above .300 for a season or played in an All-Star Game or won a Gold Glove.

I wonder if younger fans and young future Hall of Fame voters will more remember the fading version of Ichiro than the awesome player he was in his prime.

WILL TYLER AUSTIN BE IN OPENING DAY LINEUP FOR THE RED WINGS?

We all know that the 2018 Rochester Red Wings were the worst-hitting team in the International League and one of the most feeble-hitting teams in franchise history.

It sure would be nice to have slugger Tyler Austin batting third or fourth in Rochester’s Opening Day lineup Thursday, April 4, in Lehigh Valley.

Austin, 27, hit 17 HRs in 69 games and 268 official at-bats last season for the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins. He squeezed in nine games with Rochester and had 3 HRs and 8 RBI.

Austin has been hot this spring training with the Twins. Entering Thursday, he was hitting .381 (16-for-42), with 2 doubles, 3 HRs, 7 RBI, 0 walks and 13 strikeouts. He’s a free-swinging right-handed hitter and Minnesota loves his power.

But Austin is out of options. If the Twins try to send him to Rochester to start the season, he could be claimed by another team. If he cleared waivers, he’d have the option of becoming a free agent. The Twins would hope he realizes that he is part of their future – just not quite yet – and would accept an assignment to Rochester to stay sharp for an inevitable recall.

If Austin sticks with Minnesota to start this season, Jake Cave and/or Willians Astudillo do have options and could be assigned to the Red Wings.

McILROY IS THE NEW MASTERS FAVORITE

Steady Rory McIlroy is the new favorite to win the 83rd Masters April 11-14 at Augusta National Golf Club.

McIlroy is 8-to-1 on the Bovada line, followed by Dustin Johnson 10-to-1; Justin Rose and Tiger Woods each 12-to-1; Justin Thomas 14-to-1; Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each 18-to-1; Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler each 20-to-1...others include Phil Mickelson 28-to-1, defending champion. Patrick Reed 33-to-1, Sergio Garcia 40-to-1 and Jason Dufner 200-to-1.

What’s wrong with Jordan Spieth? So far this season, he has finished MC (missed cut), 54th, 51st, 45th, 35th, MC, MC, 55th.

SHORT SHOTS

Syracuse wasn’t the only favorite to bite the dust in Thursday’s first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

In the eight afternoon games, favorites were 6-2 outright but a dreadful 1-7 against the Las Vegas point spread.

In the eight night games, favorites were 6-2 outright (12-4 total) and 5-2-1 against the point spread (6-9-1 total).

xxxBobby Orr turned 71 on Wednesday. If there were an all-time NHL dream draft and I had the first pick, I’d select Orr. Yes, over Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. What do you think?

xxxNew England Patriots wide receiver and Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman was voted the Hickok Belt winner for the month of February.

xxxThe Toronto Maple Leafs swept this season’s series from the Buffalo Sabres 4-0. Goals: Toronto 19, Buffalo 10...Shots on goal Toronto 141, Buffalos 136...Power play Toronto 0-for-8, Buffalo 4-for-11; penalty minutes Toronto 19, Buffalo 27.

xxxBuffalo’s 1270 The Fan had a listeners’ poll Thursday morning: Should the Sabres fire (coach) Phil Housley? Results: Yes 78 percent; No 22 percent. My reaction:Not surprised. Buffalo fans almost always overrate the talent levels of the Sabres and Bills and blame the head coaches when the teams don’t meet their expectations and fail to make the playoffs.

xxxThe Cincinnati Swords, the ECHL affiliate of the NHL Sabres and AHL Amerks, clinched the Central Division Wednesday night with a 4-1 victory over the Wheeling Nailers. The Cyclones have been the class of the 27-team league this regular season, with a 46-10-4-3 record and outscoring opponents by 105 goals (252-147).

xxxBuffalo’s Bucky Gleason is the latest talented long-time sportswriter in western New York to leave the profession for greener pastures. He posted on Thursday that he has accepted an offer too good to refuse to work in communications for Catholic Health.

xxxThe Rochester Red Wings, inspired by the success of Garbage Plates nights and merchandise sales, will have what is billed as “the world’s first Bobble Fork” giveaway to the first 1,000 fans on August 8.

xxxFormer New York Mets slugger Lucas Duda won’t be a Red Wing this season. He opted out and left Minnesota’s spring training camp after being informed that he wouldn’t be on the season-opening roster for the Twins.

xxxLong-time Syracuse U. basketball coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins agreeing to an extension with the Washington Huskies through 2025 is a strong clue that he won’t be succeeding Jim Boeheim at SU.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, March 22

J.J. Watt 30...Chris Ivory 31...Dexter Fowler 33...Thomas Davis 36...Marcus Cumby 45...Ramon Martinez 51...Bob Costas 67...Don Chaney 73. Reese Witherspoon 43, Rick (Pawn Shop) Harrison 54. Matthew Modine 60 and William Shatner 88 are invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, March 23

Kyrie Irving 27...Gordon Hayward 29...Dellin Betances 31...Maurice Jones-Drew 34...Brandon Marshall 35...Mark Buehrle 40...Jason Kidd 46....Sammy Morris 42..Mark Maddox 51...Daren Puppa 54...Wayne Prseley 54...Geno Auriemma 65....Ron Jaworski 67..

Sunday, March 24

Chris Bostick 26...Starlin Castro 29...Chris Bosh 35...T.J. Ford 36...Corey Hart 37...Peyton Manning 43...Aaron Brooks 43...WWE The Undertaker 54...Penny Hammel 57...Renaldo Nehemiah 60...Mike Woodson 61...

Doug Jarvis 64...Pat Bradley 68...Denny McLain 75.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS HISTORY...

March 22

52 years ago (1967), Muhammad Ali KOd Zora Folley in 7 for the heavyweight boxing title...50 years ago (1969), UCLA beat Purdue 92-72 for its fifth NCAA basketball national championship in six years...40 years ago (1979), the NHL voted to accept four WHA teams: the Oilers, Jets, Nordiques and Whalers.

March 23

81 years ago (1938), baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis freed 74 St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers (that wasn’t good for the Rochester Red Wings)...35 years ago (1984), Katarina Witt won the Ladies Figure Skating Championship in Ottawa...28 years ago (1991), in the first World League of American Football games, London beat Frankfurt 24-11, Sacramento beat Raleigh-Durham 9-3 and Montreal beat Birmingham 20-5.

March 24

83 years ago (1936), the Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in 16 minutes, 30 seconds of the sixth overtime period. The game lasted 176 minutes...57 years ago (1962), Benny Paret died 10 days after being knocked out by Emile Griffith in the 13th round of their welterweight title fight.

Bob Matthews' Column

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