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.

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

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1. Virginia (42 first-place votes_
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

VIDEO: Wichita State celebrates in locker room after win over Cincinnati

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Wichita State went into Cincinnati — well, Northern Kentucky — on Sunday evening and landed their biggest win of the season.

They were fired up about it, as you might imagine.

And their locker room celebrating after the win was, as the kids say, litty:

Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.

Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Villanova-Xavier, the Big 12 is drunk, the best in the Big Ten is … ?

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Rob Dauster was joined by Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic on today’s show to overreact to everything that happened this weekend, from Villanova pasting Xavier to the insanity that is the Big 12 to what happened in the Big Ten in the last ten days. We also spend a good 30 minutes talking about bubble teams, tournament resumes and some misconceptions with both. The rundown.

OPEN: Bubble Banter. We talk about weird bubble teams and whether or not we like the new Quadrant system.

36:08: Villanova’s win over Xavier and the Big East title race.

45:15: The Big 12 makes no sense and I love it.

58:30: Michigan State deserves the Big Ten title.

Team Of The Week: Houston Cougars

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The Cougars have now won five straight games, but it was the two games they won this week that set the tone for what the rest of their season can be.

On Thursday night, Cincinnati came to down and Houston dropped them, 67-62, despite digging a double-digit hole in the first half. They followed that up by going into North Philadelphia and poleaxing Temple. They were up 34-11 midway through the first half. They won by 21 points. It was never a question.

And as a result, Houston’s bid to the NCAA tournament is no longer a question so long as they avoid losing to Memphis, East Carolina and UConn. And if they truly are an NCAA tournament team, they’ll get that done.

But perhaps the best piece of news is that the Cougars did all this while Rob Gray did not play well. He’s one of the best players in that conference, and the fact that they were able to right Devin Davis and Corey Davis to wins in two of their most important and toughest games of the league slate is significant.

What happens when Rob Gray gets right?

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • WICHITA STATE: Not only did Wichita State land a come-from-behind win over Temple on Thursday night, one where they trailed by 14 points at halftime, but they followed that up by going to Cincinnati and knocking off the then-No. 5 Bearcats.
  • MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten due in large part to the fact that they were able to erase a 27-point first half deficit at Northwestern.
  • BAYLOR: The Bears look like they are now heading for the NCAA tournament after landing wins at Texas and at home over Texas Tech on Saturday. Now that Scott Drew’s team is healthy, they look like they belong in the top 25.
  • ST. BONAVENTURE: The Bonnies might have solidified their bid for the NCAA tournament. As long as they don’t do anything dumb the rest of the season, beating Rhode Island at home on Friday night should be enough for them to get in.
  • DUKE: The Blue Devils have now won three straight games after losing Marvin Bagley III to a minor knee sprain, mainly because their defense is now playing at a level that we haven’t seen yet this season. Are the Blue Devils better without Marvin Bagley??? (Hint: No.)

Player Of The Week: Terry Maston, Baylor

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Terry Maston is back from injury and playing the best basketball of his career.

The 6-foot-8 senior was utterly dominant in two critical, close wins this week. It started with 26 points and six boards in a double-overtime win at Texas on Monday night that was something of a play-out game for NCAA tournament purposes.

Then on Saturday, that win was overshadowed. Maston had 24 points and five boards in regular as the Bears knocked off No. 7 Texas Tech for their fifth straight win, and suddenly it looks like Scott Drew’s club will be in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday.

All told, in what will arguably be the most important week of the season for Baylor, Maston scored 50 points, or a total of 38 percent of Baylor’s total scoring output in those two games.

Not bad for a guy that came off the bench in both of those wins.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke: In three games without Marvin Bagley III, Duke is now 3-0 thanks to Grayson Allen averaging 22.3 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 42 percent from three. Last week, Duke beating Virginia Tech by 22 points and won at Clemson.
  • CALEB and CODY MARTIN, Nevada: The Wolf Pack picked up two road wins this week, including a win at Boise State that gave them the inside track at the Mountain West regular season title. The twins combined to average 42.5 points, 12.5 boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins.
  • AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA: The Bruins stayed on track to earn a berth into the NCAA tournament with wins over Oregon and Oregon State. Holiday was the star both nights, going for 17 and 10 assists against OSU and following that up with 29 points, six assists and five boards in an overtime win over Oregon.
  • MATT MOBLEY, St. Bonaventure: Mobley averaged 28 points and nine boards as the Bonnies beat La Salle and No. 16 Rhode Island to put themselves in a spot where they can realistically feel good about their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament.
  • DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona: Ayton had one of his best games of the season on Thursday night, going for 25 points, 16 boards, four assists and three blocks as the Wildcats picked off Arizona State on the road.