Friday, February 14, 2014

Ok, Now it's Basketball Season

Tyler Ennis' 35-foot buzzer beater officially kicked off basketball season for me this week.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

I make no bones about it, I'm a football guy.

Now, basketball is my second-favorite sport, but it isn't exactly a close second. To me, there are three sports seasons: 1. Football season. Basketball season. 3. Waiting for football season.

Now that the Super Bowl is finished, and National Signing Day is in our rear view mirror, it is officially basketball season, and I've got a lot of work ahead of me to catch up with the rest of the basketball watching world.

In college, my beloved Boilermakers have been a disappointment, and I haven't even watched them enough to be mad about it. They play the team I despise more than any other in sports, Indiana, Saturday and I'm, like, sorta pumped for it. In the pros, my hometown Heat are doing what they do, and the other night we got a great taste of "LEBRON DOE!" against Golden State.

He's still the man, regardless of what KD does, and Miami is still the team to beat, regardless of what you think about the Pacers or the loaded West.

Those our the first of my limited observations about basketball this season, but here are a few others.

Syracuse is Magical

I don't know what it is about the Orange, but they recruit to that darn 2-3 zone and just seem to flummox everybody. It shouldn't be that easy, but coach Jim Boeheim always seems to have his share of long, athletic and relentless players that close out on shooters in a flash, while still managing to somehow be a decent rebounding team.

Having scorers like C.J. Fair, who was dominant down the stretch earlier this week against Pitt, certainly helps, but the Orange have truly won with that zone defense. They've held opponents to just 58 points a game, good for best in the ACC, and 7th best nationally. Basically, if they score 70, they're going to beat you.

Watching them go into Pitt, a tough place to play, and beat the Panthers with a Tyler Ennis 35-footer at the buzzer confirmed another thing: This team has that "it" factor. Stat guys hate when you say things like that, but it's true. There is no reason Syracuse should have won that game. They were on the ropes against a team desperate for a signature win. They even got jobbed with a BS foul call that gave Pitt the lead with a few seconds left.

Still, you just never got the feeling they were going to lose. When Ennis' long three went in, it was amazing, but oddly expected. It was the same feeling you got when they went to overtime with Duke two weeks ago, and when they edged out a talented Baylor team in November. Syracuse has the "it" factor this year, while Duke surprisingly doesn't.

Now, I don't know if Syracuse will win it all, but I'll go with the "Touchdown Tom" rule and never count them out.

Michael Carter-Williams… Wow

Speaking of Syracuse, the Orange are doing all this without their starting point guard from last season, Mr. Carter-Williams. While he's doing significantly less winning than he was last year with the Orange, MCW has to be the most pleasant surprise of all rookies, and the scary thing is he hasn't even improved in most of the areas experts thought he would to become a productive pro.

He still can't shoot and he still gets detached and careless with the ball at times. No matter, the leading candidate for rookie of the year thus far has combined his size (6-foot-6, 190 lbs.) with good athleticism and surprisingly tight handles to give Philadelphia a much needed bright spot.

With a rookie line of 17 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds, MCW has filled up the stat sheet on a bad team, but his defense has also impressed. As my distinguished colleague Jeremy Conlin has pointed out numerous times, point guard defense is becoming less and less important in the modern game, but MCW has the length and physicality to defend the point and the wing, making him a valuable and versatile defensive asset.

It would allow a team to cross him with an undersized 2-guard on defense in the future, and fits in well with the group of young and versatile players Philly is trying to assemble. With MCW, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, the Sixers have three players under the age of 26 that can defend multiple positions and are all competent offensive players.

Are they going to get over the top without adding a dominant player? Probably not, but they've got some young pieces (including injured rookie Nerlens Noel), though that may not soften the blow of this terrible season.

Florida's Oft-Forgotten Greatness

I'd like to close by reminding you all how spoiled Florida Gator fans are. Sure, they want us to feel bad for them because their football team lost to Georgia State, and they had to watch hated rival Florida State win it all, but damn it, they've still got it good!

The Gator basketball program, which won back-to-back National Titles in the middle of the last decade, has produced numerous solid pros in recent "down years," including Bradley Beal and Chandler Parsons. Speaking of those down years, I don't think people realize how god they've been in those seasons.

Florida has been to the Elite 8 the last three years, and been ranked in the Top-10 at some point in each of the last four seasons. Under coach Billy Donovan, the Gators have been ranked in the Top-20 at same point in every season since 1998, won two championships, made three national finals, six Elite 8s, seven Sweet 16s, won eight SEC championships (regular season and tournament) and produced 19 NBA draft picks.

Not too bad for the SEC's "other program."

This year, the Gators are a defensive juggernaut that runs opponents into the ground in transition. But, like many of Donovan's recent teams, they are a flawed bunch. With a lack of outside shooting, and Patric Young refusing to turn into a dominant post presence, the Gators struggle to score when they aren't turning teams over.

Speaking of Patric Young, have you seen that dude? He's yoked, and freakishly athletic. Put him down as this year's "college basketball player that isn't good enough to make it in the NBA, but would be scary as a tight end."

I bet coach Muschamp could use him.

Anyways, will this lack of half court scoring come back to haunt Florida?

I say yes, probably in the Elite 8.

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