Blogger Spotlight: Troy Nunes dishes on Boeheim, the 2-3 zone and Scoop’s Chipotle addition

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Saturday’s another Syracuse-Georgetown showdown. I expect nothing less than blood, sweat and guts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Once more. Yeah. Shakespeare would’ve had a ball with this rivalry.

But the Bard’s not around, so I turned to the next best option – Sean Keeley, who manages the SB Nation blog Troy Nunes is An Absolute Magician.  It’s the go-to Syracuse blog on the web for its mix of humor, links, analysis and all things Orange.

Thankfully, Sean doesn’t write in Iambic pentameter. But he can turn a phrase. That’s why he’s this week’s Blogger Spotlight.

Well, that and the timing of Syracuse-Georgetown. That’s what I call synergy.

Q: Does every Syracuse season feel like this one? Stellar start – in this case, 18-0 – then the Big East season rolls around and douses that hot start a bit. Are all Big East fans prepared for that eventuality?

A: I’d say most Syracuse seasons feel a little bit like this one. The non-conference schedule ranges from suoer-soft to kinda-soft and we cruised through it with 0-2 losses, though to be fair the last couple years it’s not our fault. We scheduled North Carolina, Florida and Michigan State all in down years…we tried, I swear!

After that it’s Big East play where we get a rude awakening, usually thanks to Pitt or Louisville, and there’s a losing skid or rough patch in there somewhere. We ebb and flow with the Big East schedule and usually make it out alive…barely. Then we head into the NCAA Tournament expecting at least a Sweet Sixteen, if not more.

In a nutshell, that’s what it’s like for us.

Q: Which player has surprised you the most the season? And don’t say Fab Melo.

A: Let me put it this way…if you told me back in October that come February, Fab Melo would be riding pine and Baye Moussa Keita would be a starter, I would have committed you to an insane asylum.

Keita was basically considered the “throw-in” to this year’s recruiting class behind Melo, Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair. It wasn’t a question of him playing, it was a question of whether or not he’d get red-shirted. Sophomore DaShonte Riley got hurt and that ended that discussion. It also opened the door for Keita to turn into Syracuse’s new Kristof Ongenaut, i.e. the foreign big guy who doesn’t put up a lot of points but makes tons of scrappy hustle plays and energizes the team while on the court and off it. It’s been a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

Q: When people learn you’re a Syracuse fan, do they immediately ask you how to play against a 2-3 zone? Or do they just mutter ineffectually and toss out a few curse words regarding that zone. Seriously. It’s bear.

A: I think the first question I usually get is, “So have you met Juli Boeheim?” After that, then we turn to the 2-3 zone talk.

The zone is great but, as we’ve learned in the last two seasons, it’s only as good as the players in it. Last year, Andy Rautins, Wes Johnson & Arinze Onuaku anchored what was arguably the most dominant version in Boeheim’s tenure. This year, a lot of inexperience and a vulnerability from outside the arc has been our downfall. That said the guards and wings are making adjustments and Rick Jackson continues to rack up blocks down low.

The motto for this year’s zone (and team, really) is, “We’re not as good as last year, but we’re still pretty good.”

Q: Nervous for Saturday? Or does playing Georgetown simply stir so much hate inside you that it overwhelms everything else?

A: Syracuse vs. Georgetown brings out a lot of emotions no matter what’s going on. I still remember when I was at school (late 90’s) and Georgetown wasn’t very good. It didn’t matter. We still wanted to beat them by 90.

The Chris Wright injury is a good news/bad news scenario. You hate to see anyone get injured and even Syracuse fans can’t take too much pleasure in it. That said, he was Mr. Intangibles against us last time and a Hoya team without him is a more-beatable one. But that also opens the door for “the unheralded bench player who suddenly becomes Craig Hodges from beyond the arc” that always seems to show up against Syracuse in situations like this. It’s the stuff of Cuse fan nightmares.

It’s Senior Day for them and they made sure that the crowd is going to be as Orange-less as possible thanks to some questionable ticket sales practices. Regardless of who’s on the court, Syracuse better not let up cause they’re going into extremely hostile territory. 

Q: Jim Boeheim has been killing it during postgame press conferences lately. Well, at least for those of us who love a good quote. That’s one of the under-appreciated aspects of Boeheim, isn’t? His reputation might be as a complainer, but I’d say he’s just a guy who doesn’t tolerate BS.

A: I love me a good Boeheim presser, especially when he’s defending a player or attacking a faulty microphone with reckless abandon. I have to say though, even I found his most recent press conference outbursts a little depressing. Boeheim spent a lot of time talking about how he didn’t care what people think of him while explaining why it bothered him that people thought certain things about him. I don’t know, I guess I assumed that all those wins, Big East titles and Final Fours would have been enough to let little things slide.

Then again, that’s also what’s so great about Boeheim. Nothing is too little for him to let is just slide.

Q: After watching Wes, Andy and Arinze provide consistently impressive performances last season, do you ever sit there and think, “Man, if Scoop would just lay off the Chipotle, he’d be right there…” ?

A: Here’s the thing with Scoop…physically he’s already made that leap. Before last year he was sluggish and slightly overweight. He worked out all summer, ate better and became a better athlete. He still is in great shape.

The problem with Scoop is all mental. Scoop thinks he’s “The Man” but I assure you, most of the time, he is not. I saw someone say about Scoop that “he’s really good but he thinks he’s All-American.” That’s a perfect way to sum him up and the way he plays, especially if you want to explain why he takes so many crazy shots and makes so many bad passes.

The truth is, sometimes he makes those shots and completes those passes. But it just feels like for every step he takes forward, he takes one right back a few plays later.

Q: Rate the Carrier Dome as a place to watch a game. Loud? Spacious? Odd?

A: I know the Carrier Dome looks weird on TV. You’ve got that cavernous space hind the curtain that you would think kills the sound and ambiance. But once you’re in the middle of that crowd, it really has no effect on you or the atmosphere.

The Dome is loud, there isn’t a bad seat in the house (honestly) and it’s intimidating. I admit there’s a part of me that would love to play in a more-intimate 10-15K arena where everyone seems to be right on top of one another. But the flip side is that the Dome is a pretty unique space and Syracuse seems to have no problem filling it on a regular basis.

I’d love to see what it would look like to put the court right in the middle and one of these days I’m sure they’ll try it. As long as it’s a good opponent, they’ll still sell the place out.

Q: I’m a Kansas grad — still bitter about ’03 by the way — who now lives on the coast. You went to Syracuse and now live on the other coast. Do you find that your fandom has waned with the distance, or does it just not burn as brightly all the time. Seems like that’s how it goes for me. Then again, that could just be my age.

A: Quick tangent. I watched the 2003 National Title game at a beach bar in Manhattan Beach, CA called Sharkeez. There was no reason for anyone there to have any kind of rooting interest. I latched on to a group of Syracuse fans I met in the first round of the tournament and we sat down in the middle of the bar to watch the game. It became apparently clear to me that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE else in the bar was rooting for Kansas. I couldn’t tell if it was alums, Cuse-haters or that Kansas was just “the team everyone wanted to win.” Whatever the reason, it made the victory dance I did afterward that much sweeter.

You know it’s funny, my fandom has gotten one million times stronger since being on the West Coast, but a lot of that has to do with writing the blog as well. I admit that after graduation there was a lull when I really didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on, and I lived on the East Coast at the time. It took me moving 3,000 miles away to become a die-hard again. Weird, I know.

Q: Favorite Syracuse team? Player?

A: My senior year was 2000 and while that team wasn’t exactly the most memorable of Syracuse squads, they’ll always have a special place in my Cusian heart. Jason Hart and Etan Thomas were freshmen when I was a freshmen and I watched those two lead Syracuse for four years. We started with an NIT berth and we ended with a great season that culminated in the Sweet Sixteen. We met eventual-champion Michigan State in the round of 16 that year. We led the game at halftime and there wasn’t a Syracuse fan in the bar that didn’t think we were going to the Final Four, that is, until Mateen Cleaves ripped out hearts out in the second half.

As for favorite player, I know it’s cliche to say Gerry McNamara but it’s gotta be Gerry McNamara. Carmelo Anthony will always be remembered for his one season of glory. He is and will always be the face of that 2003 National Championship game. But Gerry McNamara WAS Syracuse basketball between 2003 and 2006. He was the face of the program and he was the heartbeat of those teams, which was most notable during a certain Big East Tournament you might remember. (Editor’s note: Carmelo had a little help. McNamara hit six 3-pointers in Syracuse’s ’03 title win over Kansas.)

That Gerry is now an assistant on Boeheim’s staff is fait accompli. He’s destined to be an Orangeman for the rest of his life.

Q: Some team blogs strike a serious tone and treat their teams with incredible reverence. I wouldn’t say that’s what Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician is about, eh? How would you describe its tone?

A: About the most cliche thing a blogger can say is that they were influenced by Deadspin and The Sports Guy. But for those of you who were jaded by both of them long ago, you have to remember a time like 2002/2003 when they were both just barely coming into their own.

For me, it was a whole new world. I honestly didn’t realize we could talk about sports like this now. So wait, we’re allowed to talk about that moment during the game when we saw the coach pick his nose and we can create a whole series of posts about it?

That was my initial goal for TNIAAM. To be “The Deadspin of Syracuse sports.” Of course Deadspin is something…different, these days. Newbies don’t realize it used to be much lighter and much more fun But I try my best to stay with that initial idea. There’s the stories about SU that everyone talks about and then there’s the shared minutia that everyone else lets slip through the cracks. I want to talk about that stuff. That’s fun.

The only limit I put on what I do is that I never want to be responsible for hurting the program. Unless it’s already out there, I won’t post any shady photos or unsubstantiated rumors just to get site traffic. I’m a fan of SU, first and foremost.

Q: How’d you get into blogging? And how much longer do you see yourself doing it?

A: I was living in LA trying to make it in screenwriting and I needed an outlet. I needed something that I could write about every day. Like I said I had recently become a big fan of Deadspin, Sports Guy and a bunch of other blogs and so I decided to get into the blogging business myself.

I tried a couple other topics that crashed and burned. After about a week lost interest in each of them. So I realized I needed a topic that excited me enough to stick with. I needed to wake up in the morning and be interested in learning about and writing on the topic. Syracuse sports came to mind.

I was given the gift of Greg Robinson as my initial target of relentless fun. As miserable as it was to be a Syracuse football fan, the man provided me with more content and absurd quotes than I could keep up with. That said, I’m plenty glad he’s long gone.

As for how long I’ll keep doing it, who knows. The blog has already led to so many things I never, ever thought I do, like writing a book or teaching a class at Syracuse on blogging. Every time I think the craziest thing possible has happened, something else comes along. As long as it continues to be fun and people enjoy it, I’ll keep making Syracuse-themed LOLCat photos. It’s the least I can do.

You can find more of Sean Keeley’s writing at www.nunesmagician.com and follow him on Twitter @NunesMagician.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.