UNC Asheville nearly pulls off history, but it should’ve never been that close.
Before the game, The Fizz posted a preview of UNC Asheville asking “Should We Worry?” Guess so. After allowing my heart pressure to come down past 200/130, it’s finally time to discuss what we just witnessed. Which, of course, was the closest a 16-seed has ever come to advancing in the NCAA Tournament in 15 years. How did Syracuse allow UNC Asheville to push the Orange to the brink? Some of this falls on the SU players, who seemed lathargic for most of the game, and lacking a sense of urgency until it was almost too late. Certainly it’s time to give credit to the Bulldogs who had a ton of confidence after almost beating numerous high-majors this season. UNC-A also had a stud in J.P Primm, who finished with 18 points and two gallons of ice water in his veins.
But Jim Boeheim’s coaching was head-scratching throughout. How is it possible the Orange was allowed to shoot 23 three-pointers this afternoon? SU was ghastly from beyond the arc all day, and hit just 5 treys – giving the Orange an eye sore precentage of 22%. SU launched from the outset, settled for shots early in the shot clock, and never seemed to force the action down low. Why? Here’s some theories.
- The best case scenario is that Boeheim was simply letting his players learn from its mistakes in a game he figured they would eventually eke out. Sure the Bulldogs did a solid job of clogging the middle, but there’s a reason no 1-seed has ever lost in its first game: the height advantage. Even if your guards cannot create penetration, you can use your size to get shots inside the perimeter on every possession. The idea should have been to impose your will, even without Fab inside, by outmuscling the smaller Dogs at every chance. Maybe JB wanted to let his seniors figure it out, and organize themselves for benefit later in the tourney.
- The worst case is that JB actually felt this was the best way to attack teams once Melo was taken away. As soon as it became apparent SU couldn’t hit the outside shot, Boeheim should have demanded any three-point shot (especially early in the possession) would result in being sat down. The Orange was 2-13 from deep in the first half, and it was painfully clear it wasn’t SU’s shooting night. How The Per’fesser allowed another 10 ill-concieved attempts is mind-boggling. The only equalizer in a 1-16 is an awful shooting night for the favorite, a red-hot shooting night for the underdog, and the 1-seed avoiding using its size advantage. SU gave UNC-A 2 of those 3. It was a nonsensical approach for SU.
- The scariest case is that Boeheim is emotionally overwhelmed by this entire season, and maybe even worried about the future findings of the NCAA investigation (we have good information the NCAA combed back through the original Fab suspension before he was deemed ineligible). He took the postgame podium poised to unleash on Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education about APR. Even by Boeheim standards that was odd timing. Who could blame The Per’fesser for fraying after the Fab news? He’s held this thing together every step of the way in the face of mounting distractions and controverseys. Is it possible this is his tipping point, and the normal in-game adjustments are clouded? That his focus is being tested? Let’s hope not. But allowing this team to launch errant shots early in the shot clock against a physically overmatched team was bizarro world Boeheim.
Let’s take the glass half-full approach. SU survived, and maybe got a much-needed wake-up call before better competition. The world is coming down on the uneven officiating, and Boeheim can play the “us against the world” card even more. JB had maybe his greatest coaching job ever this season, but this game felt like invasion of the body snatchers.