Tuesday’s Shootaround: Syracuse and Kansas win, Iona blows another lead

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No. 4 Syracuse 60, Cincinnati 53: Coming off of an embarrassing, 76-67 loss to Notre Dame — a loss that was no where near as close as the final score indicates — Syracuse was looking to make a statement on Monday night. People have begun to speculate that the Bearcats may actually be the second best team in the Big East, and while that may end up proving to be true in the long run, the Orange made a statement on Monday night as they went into Fifth Third Arena and left with a win.

There were a few things to take note of in this game. For starters, it was nice to see Kris Joseph go into take over mode for a while. I’m not one of those people that harps on the fact that they don’t have a go-to player (I think they do, but that’s another post for another time), but I do believe that if they are going to make a run to the Final Four, they need Joseph to be more assertive offensively. His combination of size, athleticism and slashing ability makes him a difficult cover for anyone, and he showed that tonight as he finished with 17 points on 8-11 shooting from the floor. Scoop Jardine also deserves credit as he finished with 13 points and six assists without turning the ball over.

The other good sign was the play of Rakeem Christmas. After a pitiful showing against Notre Dame, he finished with nine boards (four offensive), three blocks and simply was a presence in the paint. True, Yancy Gates finishes with 16 points and 10 boards, but they didn’t come easy and, frankly, Gates should be putting up double-doubles against a freshman.

With or without Melo, Syracuse is head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in this conference, regardless of what happened in South Bend.

No. 5 Kansas 64, Texas A&M 54: I’ll have a lot more coming from this game, but there are a couple of things that are worth mentioning that I probably won’t get to in the writeups.

For starters, has there been a more surprising performance from anyone in the country this season than the play of Jeff Withey? He went from a question mark heading into the season to a defensive centerpiece. He’s arguably the best shot blocker in the country, and that includes that lanky freshman from Lexington. Perhaps his most valuable attribute is that Bill Self can use him to defend an opposing team’s best low-post scorer, which allows Thomas Robinson to save his legs for the glass and the offensive end of the floor.

I was also impressed with Dash Harris. I’ve been as critical of Harris as anyone in the country, and based on what this Texas A&M team has on their roster right now, I think it’s a fair assessment. Look, Harris can wreak havoc defensively. He can break down a defense off the dribble and create for his teammates. He does some good things on a basketball court. The problem is that, with the team that Billy Kennedy currently fields, he just doesn’t fit. There are not enough offensive weapons on the floor, particularly with Kourtney Roberson and Khris Middleton injured. The Aggies need a guy that can score when the offense breaks down. That ain’t Dash.

Siena 65, Iona 62: For the second time in the span of 11 days, the Gaels blew a big lead and ended up losing to a league foe. In this game, Iona jumped out to a 20-2 lead just four minutes into the game, but the Saints locked down defensively. The high-powered Gael offense managed just 42 points the rest of the way. With nine minutes left, they still held on to a 57-46 lead, but Kyle Downey capped a 12-0 with a three at the fine minute mark to give Siena their first lead. After trading baskets for four minutes, Downey hit another jumper with 51 seconds left to give the Saints their final lead.

Iona is now in a three-way tie for first in the MAAC with Manhattan and Loyola (MD). If they could hold on to double-digit leads, however, they would own a two-game lead. Of note: Scott Machado had as many turnovers (three) as he did assists.

Of more note: Siena’s OD Anosike has a double-double in 15 straight games. He’s had one game this season where he didn’t get double figure rebounds, and that was when he went for 13 points and nine boards in the fourth game of the year. What makes this stretch all the more remarkable is that in the first three games of the season, he scored a total of nine points. That’s just … wow.

Loyola Marymount 74, Santa Clara 62: The Lions kept themselves relevant in the WCC by going into Santa Clara and beating the Broncs. At 5-2 in the league with a win over BYU and no bad losses, this is a group to keep an eye on since they are finally healthy. They host St. Mary’s on Thursday in a game that will allow us to gauge just how much of a menace this team can be.

The CAA: There was quite a bit of notable action in the CAA last night. Ryan Pearson went for 20 points and 12 boards as George Mason survived an ugly start to improve to 8-1 in the league with a 67-61 win over UNC-Wilmington. The Patriots now own a one game lead over VCU, who beat Hofstra 61-49, and Drexel, who won 64-48 against William & Mary. Georgia State is two games back, bouncing back from consecutive losses to knock off James Madison.

The Atlantic Sun: There is still a tie atop the conference as Belmont beat East Tennessee State handily and Mercer knocked off Jacksonville.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.