St. John's fans would dearly, deeply love to see the young Johnnies knock off the Syracuse Orange. It's a tough task - the Orange are the #2 ranked team in the country, are long and talented, filled with scoring talent, and welcome back their game-changing Brazilian center Fab Melo to the court.
There is a lot to know, so the 5 questions became... 11... And we thank Brian Harrison from Orange:44 for answering questions on how Syracuse can be defeated, Fab Melo's impact, Scoop Jardine's improvement, "Fab Melo Rumors", and more.
Look out for the game preview later today, and an article on the game in the morning. The Q&A, after the jump.
Q. So how does New York City's College Team defeat Upper New York's College Team?
Shoot the ball extremely well. You’ve got to be able to hit threes consistently. Obviously the zone invites that. Boeheim secretly loves it when a team gets hot early hitting two or three in a row. Because chances are that means they will keep shooting it and he plays the percentages all day because chances are you can’t keep making them.
But a team hitting 9 or 10 long balls has a decent shot of beating Syracuse. Additionally, Syracuse is vulnerable on the boards. Not as much as when Fab Melo was absent, but getting easy offensive put backs are also necessary to beat Syracuse.
Q. What impact will Fab Melo's return have?
Rebounding a bit, but mostly it will be altering shots in the lane and shot blocking. A seven foot guy in the lane is going to make a 6’2" guard think about his shot. And he is a much stronger rebounding presence in the lane than Rakeem Christmas or Baye Moussa Keita. And he leads Syracuse in shot blocking. The fact that he can now score and take charges doesn’t hurt either.
Q. All season, the Orange (by the stats, anyway) have seemed to struggle at rebounding the other team's misses - and grabbing second shot opportunities of their own. Is this a matter of style, or personnel? Is it Syracuse's Achilles Heel? Is that where the loss of Fab Melo is felt?
It is partially a product of the zone in terms of their positioning, but it is also just that this is most Syracuse players' biggest weakness. Obviously Fab Melo being in is a huge rebounding presence, but other players will be in the game and have failed to grab rebounds. Oddly, CJ Fair is the best rebounder besides Fab Melo. Kris Joseph isn’t too shabby either, but the guards are almost worthless.
Syracuse players seem to favor trying to tip the ball to a teammate instead of just grabbing the rebound strongly, the much better technique to get rebounds. Syracuse, while Fab has been out, has been unable to sufficiently stop second chance opportunities for other teams, therefore games have been close. That problem should be eased with the return of Melo.
Q. What worries you about the game against St. John's? What does St. John's have to do to leave with a rousing home win?
Honestly the only thing that worries me is really great outside shooting. If my "cousin" Harrison hits another 7 three balls Syracuse could be in trouble. But honestly that is it. Someone else on the team would have to shoot that well, and the percentages don’t back up two of your players having a night like that. St. John’s can’t keep up with the inside presence of Syracuse and will have trouble stopping penetration, mid-range shots, and moves to the hoop from Syracuse. And good luck stopping the transition game.
Q. Why will this be a runaway win for the Orange?
Basically everything I’ve just said. It will probably be a fairly close half, but Syracuse should pull away. The crowd will be friendly, you have to think Dion Waiters will try and break out of his slump on a big stage at MSG, Fab Melo is back in the lineup, and Syracuse’s defense will be giving St. John’s fits. Also, just too much talent on the floor for the Orange.
Q. Who is the star on this team? Or does the team HAVE a star?
Honestly the team is the star. No one player leads scoring every night. But if I’m forced to pick one overall this season it’s been Dion Waiters. He’s been in a big slump the last few games so I would have to give it to Triche as of late. Scoop Jardine has had an inhuman assist to turnover ration lately as well, being a true leader on the floor. He definitely isn’t the go to scorer though. Triche has hit huge shots lately. I expect it to be Dion this game though, as I said.
Q. Is Scoop playing under control these days?
Scoop is usually good for one head scratching turnover a game, but literally it’s just one. He’s been playing extremely well overall this season and especially the last three games in terms of dishing the ball and maintaining control on the dribble. His shooting has been spotty during that stretch, but he distributes the ball so well, and really knows how to play Syracuse’s zone / transition on offense that he’s well worth having on the floor for most of the time. For now at least.
Q. Why did Mookie Jones leave?
From everything we've heard it’s a personal reason so we’re assuming it is something to do with his family. If he didn't transfer before this season or last he wasn't going to. He and Boeheim have been fine this season, so it sounds like a pretty legitimate issue at home that is private. For that, we hope everything is fine and we wish him well.
Q. Do you have any goofy tidbits about the team to share - like music videos they've made, bizarre tweets, et cetera?
Well the whole team is basically on Twitter, and Dion Waiters (Twitter) is the king of retweets. That guy will basically retweet anything starting about an hour after a game is done. This is well documented from his timeline. Also his personal slogan is "H&H" or "hungry and humble". I personally find it extremely annoying to have my timeline clogged with that kind of crap after a game, but that’s just me. Plenty of people ask for it.
Fab Melo has also embraced the #FabMeloRumors hashtag. Check it out. It’s a pretty great meme that went around the bend a few days ago with some of the big Syracuse Twitterati. While not on the team anymore, a few years ago Paul Harris lip synced to a 50 Cent song. Google that if you are in for a laugh. In case you missed it.
Q. What's the case for Jim Boeheim getting coach of the year?
He took a team that everyone assumed would crumble due to the off the court issues and being personally named in a lawsuit. He quietly guided Syracuse to a 20-0 start, the best in school history, without one player in the top ten in the league for scoring. They are first place in the Big East and have only lost one game. Syracuse is playing well and continued to win 2/3 even after losing Fab Melo for a three game stretch. It’s all a moot point though because Syracuse started #5 in the country. Not enough room there to show the improvement that the award typically is rewarded for.
Q. Do you expect this team to make the Final Four?
Expect is a bit of a strong word. I think it is definitely possible if everyone stays healthy and eligible. The only real weakness of Syracuse is they lack an automatic, dead eye shooter. Other than that they can score by shooting, in transition, and have one of the best defenses in the nation. The only way they don’t make it to the Final Four is every player has an off-shooting night or another team just cannot miss from behind the arc for all 40 minutes.