Syracuse v Marquette

The maturation of Michael Carter-Williams, or how Syracuse got their ‘chip’ back

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hollywood wouldn’t need any creative license to tell the story of the 2013 Syracuse Orange, not after everything they’ve been through to earn a trip to the Final Four. The fourth-seeded ‘Cuse knocked off No. 3 seed Marquette in the East Regional finals 55-39 on Saturday night, sending Jim Boeheim on his fourth trip to the Final Four.

Their season was done by the time the regular season ended, or so the critics would have you believe. The Orange had lost four of their last five and seven of their last 12 games. The final game of the regular season? A 61-39 mollywhopping at the hands of arch-nemesis Georgetown, the final Big East matchup that the two rivals would play before Syracuse departs for the ACC and the Hoyas depart for the Big East. The team was disjointed, having failed to find a way to incorporate James Southerland back into the offense without throwing off their rhythm.

But after a stirring run to the Big East final, where Southerland set a record for threes in a single Big East tournament and the Orange earned their revenge against Georgetown, Syracuse blew a 16 point second half lead and lost to Louisville, the tone had been set. This was a different Syracuse team, and it showed in the first weekend of the tournament. The No. 4 seed Orange beat No. 13 Montana in the opening round 81-34, following that up with a 66-60 win over No. 12 Cal to advance to the Sweet 16.

But that’s when tragedy was, thankfully, averted. Star point guard Michael Carter-Williams had his house burn down during their win over Cal, and while the Williams’ family was lucky to escape without an injury, they lost everything. The house. The trophies. The clothes. All that was left were the memories.

Carter-Williams added to those memories in DC, leading the Orange to an upset win over No. 1 seed Indiana with 24 points and following that up with a 12-point, eight-rebound and six-assists performance in the win over Marquette. He set the tone defensively as well, chipping in with nine steals while committing just two turnovers in 75 minutes of play.

He was, in a word, phenomenal.

And it would be easy to point to any number incidents — the Georgetown loss, the house fire, the blown lead against Louisville — as the turning point in the Syracuse season.

In all actuality, the change came in a practice the Sunday after the loss Georgetown.

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The difference between this Michael Carter-Williams and the Michael Carter-Williams that has shot his way up, and then tumbled his way back down, NBA Draft boards earlier this season can be defined by one play that happened at the end of the first half on Saturday night.

The Syracuse offense had gone stagnant. They had made just one field goal and scored only three points over a seven minute stretch, allowing the Golden Eagles to scrap their way back from an 18-7 deficit to within 21-18. Davante Gardner had gotten matched up with James Southerland, and Carter-Williams saw it. He pulled the ball out, waving Baye Keita to the other side of the floor and and getting Southerland positioned on the right wing, 23 feet away from the rim and right in front of the Marquette bench.

Carter-Williams was being guarded by the smaller Derrick Wilson, a guy he can shoot over whenever he wants, but instead of trying to stop the bleeding on his own, he drove right, directly at Gardner, kicking the ball out to Southerland while setting a screen on the biggest Golden Eagle of them all. Southerland hit the three, and Marquette never got within one possession again.

That’s not the play he would have made back in November, especially not coming off of a career-high 24-point performance.

“It’s something I’ve learned, picking my poison,” Carter-Williams said, “when I should pass and when I should shoot. Today, I felt like I needed to pass the ball more and pick my spots when I needed to get to the basket.”

As heady as that play was, it was just a glimpse into the kind of performance that he had on Saturday night. Carter-Williams finished with 12 points, eight boards, six assists and five steals.

“Midway through the season, he really started the maturation process,” current assistant coach and former Syracuse point guard Gerry McNamara, who knows a thing or two about clutch performances in March, said. “It took him half a season to get the speed of the game down, and he was still effective. Once you get the speed down, now you can make your reads.”

“We’re starting to see that he’s really intelligent,” McNamara continued. “You see a mismatch and he’s exploited it. Assists have gone down in this tournament because he’s taking the right play. He’s not necessarily just passing for assists, he’s passing to put people in situations. Like in the Indiana game, he was the best option. We moved and spaced and his guy had trouble staying in front. And Michael’s been able to put guys or himself in situations where they can be successful.”

Carter-Williams spent the majority of the first half setting up his teammates, but when he saw Marquette sputtering early in the second half, he went for the jugular. He found CJ Fair for an and-one layup to push the lead back to 10 with just over 11 minutes left, blew by his man on the next two possessions for buckets in the paint before against finding Fair, who was fouled and hit both free throws. At that point, Syracuse was up 13 with 9:33 left on a Marquette team that had only managed to score 28 points.

At that point, the Orange-clad fans only had to wait for the fat lady to start singing.

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The day the season changed for Syracuse just so happened to be when the coaches showed up late for practice.

“The clocks went back, and Boeheim didn’t realize it,” Carter-Williams said on Saturday. “[The coaches] were upstairs, and we were on the floor for like 15 minutes past practice, so the seniors and I, we called everyone together and we were like, ‘let’s just start practice.'”

So the Orange warmed up. And they stretched. And they went through their whole pre-practice routine, and there were still no coaches.

“I forgot to set my clock forward,” Boeheim said. “I was a little late. We had a meeting upstairs and when I got down they were playing 4-on-4 and playing hard. I watched them for a few minutes and it was a really good thing. I thought our practices were really good after that.”

“We know what we’re doing,” Southerland added. “We know how practices go. … It helped us go harder.”

And that, in the end, is the difference for Syracuse. They were embarrassed when they lost to Georgetown. Humiliated, and it wasn’t any easier as they saw GIFs and tweets about the throat slash that John Thompson, Jr., gave on the jumbotron during the game, or his “Kiss Syracuse goodbye” comment in the post game press conference.

But when they stepped on the practice floor on that Sunday, it was more. It was anger. The Orange were pissed.

“We competed against each other,” Carter-Williams said. “That’s what we needed. Because that competitiveness wasn’t there against Georgetown. We didn’t compete against each other. We got a chip on our shoulders.”

“Now we’ve got our chip back.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Ellis, Lucas lead No. 6 Kansas past No. 10 West Virginia

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) blocks a shot by West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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In the first meeting between No. 10 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas, the Mountaineers dominated in their 74-63 win in Morgantown. Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” attack forced 22 Kansas turnovers, with the Jayhawks playing far too fast and loose with the basketball while also getting out-toughed by the Mountaineers. In the rematch Kansas (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) looked far better equipped to deal with West Virginia in both of those areas, winning by the final score of 75-65.

Kansas committed 15 turnovers, with Devonte’ Graham responsible for five of them, but they did not allow West Virginia (19-4, 8-3) to use those chances to kickstart their offense. The Mountaineers scored 13 points (one fewer than Kansas, which took advantage of ten WVU miscues) off of those turnovers and did not register a single fast break points. Having to play in the half-court more than they would have liked, West Virginia could not execute at the level they did in beating Baylor Saturday.

As a result Bob Huggins’ team shot 37.3 percent from the field and 5-for-20 from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers have shown signs of being able to win games in which they don’t force a high turnover count, but that wasn’t the case at Allen Fieldhouse.

If not for West Virginia grabbing better than 34 percent of their misses and scoring 14 second-chance points, the margin is likely even greater than the ten-point outcome due to the contract in offensive execution. Kansas pushed the ball early, getting out to an 8-0 lead, and as the game wore on the Jayhawks were much better in finding quality shot opportunities. Bill Self’s team shot 56.1 percent from the field with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points to lead five Jayhawks in double figures.

The tandem of Ellis and Landen Lucas, who grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, won the battle against a WVU front court missing the suspended Jonathan Holton. Devin Williams, who went for 17 and 12 in the first meeting, finished the rematch with a respectable 14-point, nine-rebound effort but he didn’t get much help in the post from the likes of Elijah Macon and Nathan Adrian.

After having Self question their toughness in a home win over Kansas State six days ago, the Jayhawks have responded with wins over TCU and West Virginia. Obviously it’s tough to read too much into beating the Horned Frogs, because even with that game being in Fort Worth it’s one Kansas was expected to handle with ease. The Mountaineers posed a different, and far more rigorous test, and Kansas got the job done.

As a result the Jayhawks have brought West Virginia back to the pack in the Big 12 title race, making Saturday’s game at No. 3 Oklahoma even bigger than it already was.

VIDEO: North Carolina head coach Roy Williams collapses on sideline

Roy Williams
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North Carolina head coach Roy Williams collapsed during the second half of No. 2 North Carolina’s visit to Boston College on Tuesday night:

Roy Williams has dealt with vertigo in the past; it’s not abnormal for him to collapse on the sideline during games, and given that his team is currently losing to Boston College, it’s understandable that he may have screamed himself dizzy.

He had to be helped off the floor:

It does appear that this isn’t something serious, according to a North Carolina release, that said Williams is “doing OK”.