Was Pitt hurt by not playing games against hotter competition or were the Huskies and Kemba Walker just good enough to beat the best team in the league on a neutral floor? The Orange survived a back-and-forth game against a very good St. John’s team, but it wasn’t because SU was rusty. It was simply a battle between two worthy adversaries. The ‘Cuse just may have found a winning formula for a deep run in March – one that actually includes two players who had been MIA.
As ESPN whipped around the rest of the country, conference tournaments with mid-afternoon games were sparsely-attended with sleepy crowds. Yet, here was the Big East, showing off its elite teams, electricity coursing throughout the building, and intense, dazzling competitive games that felt like NCAA tournament games.
Who are you and what have you done with Fab Melo? Clearly the individual story of the game was Fab’s presence (12 points – 4 rebounds), both offensively and defensively. An enormous basket to give Syracuse the lead 70-68 out of a timeout, a terrific touch assist late in the fourth-quarter, and the reverse layup to make it 74-70 was evidence Melo may actually have an impact career on the Hill yet. Give the coaching staff huge credit for staying on Fab and demanding more. After his mid-season benching, Melo has contributed and grown each and every game.
Kris Joseph had been widely criticized for disappearing in major moments and late in games, but K-Jo showed a command for the ball and looking for his shot far more than we’ve seen in a long time. Joseph’s attack of the rim on a skywalking dunk attempt may have come up short, but underscored just how aggressively he asserted himself throughout the game. Joseph’s cut to the basket for a layup late (on a feed from Rick Jackson off an offensive rebound) was the play we’ve been waiting for from K-Jo for at least a month.
Strap in for another Syracuse-UConn classic Thursday night. The Big East tournament has once again proven it’s the best five successive days in college basketball.