Michael Carter-Williams, Derrick Wilson

Syracuse’s back court struggles becoming a major concern

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It was just five weeks ago that Syracuse went into Louisville and knocked off the then-No. 1 Cardinals, a game that thrust the Orange into the midst of the national title picture and made us all wonder just who the best team in the Big East was this season.

At that point, it was the Orange.

It’s a different story now.

Syracuse has gone 5-5 since that win over Louisville. Despite playing in a Big East that has as many good teams at the top half of the league as ever, the Orange has notched just a single quality win since then*. That was against Notre Dame at home. And after losing at No. 22 Marquette 74-71 on Monday night, all of a sudden the No. 12 Orange look like a shell of their former selves.

*(Please don’t try to argue Cincinnati as a quality win. That was Cashmere Wright’s first game back from the knee injury that has devastated the Beatcat’s season.)

Exactly one month ago Monday, Syracuse was the only team in the Big East conference without a loss in league play. Nine games later, they are 10-5 in the conference, two games behind first place Georgetown and in danger of missing out on the double-bye. They still have to play Louisville at home on Saturday and pay a visit to Georgetown a week later.

The problem isn’t James Southerland; he’s been back for a few weeks now. DaJuan Coleman probably could have helped slow down Davante Gardner and his 24 points on Monday, but I’m not sure how much of a difference he would have made during the Otto Porter Show on Saturday.

Where Syracuse has really been hurting is in their back court. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, who looked like arguably the best back court in the country back in January, have struggled mightily.

If you factor out the 29 point explosion that Triche had against Seton Hall on the 16th (which, ironically enough, saved Syracuse from getting upset by a team that’s currently 2-13 in the Big East and considering firing their hed coach), he’s averaged  just 12.6 points while shooting 34.0% from the floor and 15.9% from three over the last eight games, a stretch that has featured five Syracuse losses. Michael Carter-Williams hasn’t been much better. In those five losses, he’s accounted from 17 assists and 19 turnovers.

I’ll admit, I’m being a bit selective with those stats, but it’s only to drive home a point: Triche and Carter-Williams have not played well over the past month, and it’s why Syracuse is struggling.

I wrote on Saturday that it was not yet time to be concerned about the Orange, and I still think that it is too early to panic. Four of their five losses have come on the road to teams that will likely be in the NCAA tournament. The fifth loss came at home to a team that has an outside shot at earning a No. 1 seed and has been the hottest team in the country over the last seven weeks. It’s not like Syracuse lost to DePaul and South Florida.

But these are still losses, and while good teams win games at home, national title contenders beat good teams on the road.

This is no longer slump. This is a trend, one that’s not necessarily unique. Triche collapsed down the stretch of last season as well.

Syracuse has three games to right the ship before March. Can they make it happen?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 5 Xavier finds shooting touch in 74-57 blowout at Butler

Xavier head coach Chris Mack talks with James Farr (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Indianapolis. Xavier won 74-57. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) No. 5 Xavier learned its lesson.

To keep winning, it must continue do the dirty work.

Four days after stumbling at Creighton, the Musketeers got back to basics and used a balanced offense and a smothering defense to run away from Butler 74-57 on Saturday.

“We played much better today and after about the first four or five minutes, we defended,” coach Chris Mack said. “Our shots were, in my opinion, really good ones because we got in the lane, we made the extra pass and I thought that was the difference.”

Whatever the explanation, the Musketeers (22-3, 10-3 Big East) certainly looked worthy of the highest ranking in school history.

After making a season-low 30 percent from the field and just 1 of 21 3-point attempts in Tuesday’s loss, Xavier rebounded by shooting 56.9 percent and going 9 of 18 beyond the arc. J.P. Macura led the way with 13 points while Edmond Sumner and Remy Abell each had 12.

But the biggest improvements showed up in other areas – defense, rebounding and effort. They allowed 36 points over the final 31 1/2 minutes.

“Everybody was boxing out and rebounding, and on the offensive end we have so much talent we could get whatever we wanted,” said Abell, who started his college career playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.

The difference was obvious.

Butler (17-8, 6-7) was held almost 25 points below its season average.

Kelan Martin, with 15 points, and Andrew Chrabascz, with 12, were the only players to score more than 10. And the top three scorers – Martin, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones – were a combined 11 of 39 from the field as the Bulldogs’ three-game winning streak came to an end.

Xavier crushed the Bulldogs so thoroughly that chants of “Let’s Go X” resounded throughout sold out Hinkle Fieldhouse over the final minutes.

“We didn’t have near the effort, the juice, the purpose defensively and we didn’t move the ball offensively and that was actually the case from the opening minute,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “We mentioned that in the four-minute media and said that had to improve and when it doesn’t these things happen.”

Butler used a 9-0 first-half run to take a 21-13 lead midway through the first half.

Xavier answered with a 27-6 run that included four 3s and a three-point play in a 27-6 run to make it 40-27. The Bulldogs got as close as 47-39 early in the second half, which later became a seven-point deficit after a replay review gave Dunham a 3.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t get closer.

“You can go 1 for 21 one game, and then the next game it’s – I’m sure it was better,” Macura said. “That’s basketball.”

POINTERS

Xavier’s dominance showed up in two key stats on the box score. The Musketeers outscored Butler 36-14 in points off the bench and 36-18 in the paint despite having only two offensive rebounds. Xavier has won six of its last seven.

ON THE ROAD

Even the road has been kind to the Musketeers this season. They have won seven times in true road games, their highest season total since 2010-11. They have also won five Big East games on the road – more than they won in either of their first two seasons in the league and they have won 10 of the last 13 at Hinkle.

MOVING UP

Dunham continues his ascent on the Bulldogs’ career scoring list. After moving from 14th to sixth on the list in the first 23 games this season, Dunham moved passed Lynn Mitchem (1,798) for fifth and within one point of A.J. Graves (1,807) for fourth. Matt Howard is third (1,939) and the only 2,000-point scorers in school history are Chad Tucker (2,321) and Darrin Fitzgerald (2,019).

TIP-INS

Xavier: Former Indiana prep star Trevon Bluiett had 11 points and four rebounds and James Farr had 12 rebounds. … Each of Xavier’s 22 wins has come by at least seven points. … The Musketeers were the highest-ranked team to play at Hinkle Fieldhouse since No. 3 DePaul visited Feb. 23, 1981.

Butler: Shot 33.3 percent overall and was 8 of 22 on 3s. …. The Bulldogs only have three wins at home against Top 10 teams – No. 8 Gonzaga in January 2013, No. 3 Michigan in 1965-66 and No. 5 Tennessee in 1958-59. … Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence attended the game.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 20 Providence on Wednesday.

Butler hosts Creighton on Tuesday.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: Did Duke’s Grayson Allen travel on his game-winner vs. Virginia? (VIDEO)

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Duke star Grayson Allen hit a game-winner on Saturday afternoon, a tough, driving layup that gave the Blue Devils a 63-62 win over No. 7 Virginia in Cameron Indoor Stadium:

The location of said game matters, because it appears that Allen traveled on the play.

Well, more than “appears”.

Allen did travel.

Twice actually. As you can see in this screen grab, Allen’s foot came down before he got the shot off:

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 6.44.34 PM

And if that wasn’t bad enough for UVA fans, Allen also quite clearly took three steps before releasing the shot:

There’s not really much to argue about here. Allen traveled. But before you get all riled up about the no-call, a few things to keep in mind:

  1. A player taking three steps on a drive is the call that referees miss more than anything, including block-charge decisions. It’s a very difficult call to see in real time, and if you’re going to make it in that situation — final seconds, in Cameron, on a Duke player — you better be damn sure that you’re right.
  2. The same can be said about Allen’s foot hitting the ground before he got the shot off. To figure out that the refs got it wrong, I had to take a screen grab from a slow-motion replay on an angle that none of the three referees had. It’s a split-second thing, and that’s something that’s rarely going to get called unless it’s obvious. Especially then.
  3. So yes, the referees blew the call. But I’m not sure there is a ref in the world that gets that one right.

And for what it’s worth, I’m not buying the whole Allen got fouled angle. That was great defense from Marial Shayok and an even better finish by Allen. It’s tough luck for the Cavs, but not really all that much different than winning a game like this.

Whatever the case may be, the result isn’t changing.

Duke got 25 points from Brandon Ingram, picked up their second win of the week over a ranked opponent and now head to their most difficult week of the season — at North Carolina and at Louisville — playing some of their best basketball.

In the last two games, the Blue Devils have given up 1.016 points-per-possession, a marked improvement over 1.081 PPP they were giving up entering the day.

Have the Blue Devils solved their issues defensively?