As the regular season moved closer to its conclusion one of the issues for South Region No. 3 seed Syracuse was their play on the offensive end, as they struggled to knock down shots as their ACC schedule got tougher. Sophomore guard Trevor Cooney certainly had his issues, scoring in double figures just once in Syracuse’s final seven regular season games. And if the Orange are to make a run at their second consecutive Final Four appearance, he’ll need to get going.
That’s what could make Cooney’s showing in Syracuse’s comfortable 77-53 win over Western Michigan in the Round of 64 an important development moving forward. Cooney made eight of his 16 field goal attempts (4-for-8 3PT), scoring 18 points in his highest scoring output since dropping 33 on Notre Dame back on February 3.
With point guard Tyler Ennis running the show and C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant both being capable scoring options at the forward spots, it isn’t as if Syracuse lack offensive weapons. As a team the Orange shot 49.1% from the field, and they also took advantage of their ability to hit the offensive glass (SU rebounded 43.3% of its missed shots) against the overmatched Broncos.
Yet in order for Ennis, Fair and Grant to have the room they need in order to be at their best, Cooney needs to hit perimeter shots at a respectable clip.
In his final seven regular season games Cooney shot 19-for-73 (26.0%) from the field and 11-for-51 (21.6%) from beyond the arc, with both percentages being a far cry from his numbers for the season as a whole (40.5% FG, 37.7% 3PT). Obviously the road will get tougher for Syracuse, beginning Saturday with a game against No. 11 seed Dayton, but Cooney’s shooting against Western Michigan cannot be overlooked.
Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.
Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.
They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.
The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.
They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.
West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.
Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.
The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.
That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.
The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?
The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.
They were going to slip up eventually.
And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.