Dick Jerardi: Syracuse puts Villanova and 34,000 in their place

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Syracuse set an NCAA attendance record on Saturday as 34,616 fans packed the Carrier Dome. (Kevin Rivoli/AP)

AROUND THE CITY

Just too good

 

Syracuse has been really good all season. The Orange was really, really good in its 95-77 win over Villanova at the Carrier Dome.

How good? Well, it had six in double figures, committed one second-half turnover and made passing into an art form. No team has more players with an understanding of how to play the game. Once it broke down Villanova's half-court defense, it was a clear path to the basket.

Philly's Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson had major impacts on the outcome. But so did everybody else Jim Boeheim put on the floor. It was some performance by a team playing the game about as well as it could be played, especially when you consider the team it was playing is really good.

 

Got too wild

 

Villanova (23-5, 12-4 Big East) actually led the game, 23-14, midway through the first half. The pace was perfect for the 'Cats. They were making the extra pass and having success against the Syracuse zone.

Then, as they have done in other games, they got too frantic and started throwing up wild shots. That led to Syracuse fastbreaks and the game got out of hand quickly.

In a hideous first-half stretch, the 'Cats, after making eight of their first 13 shots, missed 15 of 16. Not only was Syracuse (27-2, 14-2) running for layups, 'Nova was also fouling too much, another habit it must break soon.

 

The fouling issue

 

Syracuse got to the foul line 33 times and made 11 more free throws than Villanova. That is a common theme in the recent league losses. In fact, Villanova is allowing opponents to shoot nearly half as many free throws as field goals, a ratio that ranks them 332nd out of 347 Division I teams. The teams below it are not a who's who of college hoops.

The Wildcats commit 22.5 fouls per game, 10th nationally. They have had 22 disqualifications, 13th nationally. Yes, they are deep, but they are making it too easy for too many teams. And this team is far too good for something like this to continue.

 

The good news

 

'Nova freshman big man Mouphtaou Yarou (13 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) was terrific. And that is a very good sign for later and, despite what went down in this game, there is still a very good later for these Wildcats.

 

The shooting

 

Scottie Reynolds (16 points) was fine. He shot 4-for-8 from the arc. The rest of the team shot 4-for-20.

 

How did they see?

 

That is the unanswered question for many of the on-campus record crowd of 34,616. They could have sold many more tickets, but capped it because binoculars would not have helped people in some of the seats they would have had to sell.

 

'Cuse gets superfecta

 

Syracuse clinched a tie for the Big East regular season, the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, a No. 1 NCAA seed and, this afternoon, a likely No. 1 ranking in the polls.

 

'Nova gets double bye

 

Even with the loss, Villanova gets a double bye in the Big East Tournament and, thus, will not play until the quarterfinals on March 11.

 

Never in it in Ithaca

 

On Feb. 12, Penn beat Cornell by 15 points at the Palestra. Exactly 15 days later, Cornell was favored by 22 points in Ithaca and won by 20. Think those guys in Vegas are pretty good?

Cornell (25-4, 11-1 Ivy League) clinched a tie for the league with its 68-48 win. The Big Red will get its third consecutive title this weekend by either winning at Brown or Yale and/or having Harvard or Princeton lose a game.

Penn (5-20, 4-7) got 23 points from Zack Rosen, but not enough of anything from anybody else to have much of a chance. The Quakers had 21 turnovers and all those not named Rosen shot 10-for-33.

Cornell shot 28-for-50 and 10-for-23 from the arc.

 

ACROSS THE NATION

The upsets

 

Oklahoma State beat Kansas and Tennessee beat Kentucky. First time in 4 years the top two teams lost on the same day. Now, these were not huge upsets as NCAA-worthy home teams won both games. Keep in mind there is no homecourt advantage in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, North Carolina winning at Wake Forest was a serious upset. So was Notre Dame winning at Georgetown.

 

Big margins

 

Kansas was down 19 points with 13 minutes left. Kentucky trailed by 19 with 14 minutes left, tied the game with 2 minutes left and never scored again. UK's last five possessions - three turnovers (two by John Wall), miss, miss.

 

Best week

 

Notre Dame. Mike Brey's team was not even in the NCAA discussion when the week began. Then, ND beat Pittsburgh at home, 68-53, and ran away from Georgetown in Washington, 78-64. Irish star Luke Harangody (bone bruise in right knee) did not play in either game.

ND shot 71 percent in the second half against the Hoyas. Ben Hansbrough (Tyler's brother) had 21 against G-Town.

 

Had to be a winner

 

The rules mandated that some team had to win the Pac-10. Well, California has clinched at least a tie for the regular season after beating Arizona State, 62-46. The last time Cal won a league title was 1960 when it was in the Athletic Association of Western Universities, the forerunner to the Pac-8 and Pac- 10.

The legendary Pete Newell's team won the national championship in 1959 and lost to the great Ohio State team in the 1960 national championship game. This Cal team won't get there or anywhere close to there.

 

Can't argue

 

Texas coach Rick Barnes said he was "somewhat embarrassed" by his team's recent performance. UT shot 36.8 percent and lost at Texas A&M, 74-58. Remember when this team was No. 1?

 

Best almost-comeback

 

Minnesota led at Illinois by 19 points with 7 minutes left. Minnesota held on and won, 62-60.

 

Wildest game

 

Maryland's game at Virginia Tech was delayed for hours because of a water main break. And then it really got crazy. The teams combined to take 164 shots from the field, 58 from the foul line, and score 204 points. Maryland finally won in double overtime, 104-100. Terps point guard Greivis Vasquez had 41 points. V-Tech lost at home for the first time.

 

Dick Jerardi's Top 15

 

1. Syracuse (27-2): Can't play much better than that. Offense was stylish. Defense was suffocating. Routed Villanova, 95-77 at the Carrier Dome.

2. Kansas (27-2): Never really in it at Oklahoma State and lost, 85-77. Nation's best field-goal defense allowed Cowboys to shoot 60.4 percent.

3. Kentucky (27-2): Came from 19 down to tie at Tennessee, but made no plays down the stretch and lost, 74-65.

4. Kansas State (24-4): Wildcats and Missouri combined to miss 70 of 119 shots, but K-State's toughness won the game, 63-53. This is going to be one difficult team to beat in the NCAA.

5. Villanova (23-5): Got frantic in stages of games and have to play from behind. Still foul too much. Still a lot of talent and enough time to get this right by the time the NCAA begins.

6. Duke (25-4): Cruised to 67-49 win over Virginia last night.

7. Butler (26-4): Finished Horizon regular season unbeaten after winning at Valparaiso Friday night, 74-69, without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (back).

8. Purdue (24-4): Robbie Hummel's ACL injury changes everything, including the potential NCAA seed. Lost at home to Michigan State yesterday, 53-44.

9. West Virginia (22-6): Had to make yet another double-digit comeback to beat Cincinnati, 74-68. Bearcats shot just 29 percent in the second half and got overwhelmed on the glass.

10. Ohio State (23-7): Evan Turner (18 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks) went off again as Buckeyes beat Michigan, 66-55. OSU shot 58.7 percent.

11. New Mexico (27-3): Steve Alford's team went to Provo, shot 50 percent and held on to beat BYU, 83-81. Clinched No. 1 seed in Mountain West Tourney.

12. BYU (26-4): Got swept by New Mexico, but still having a terrific season.

13. Tennessee (21-7): Have now beaten No. 1 and No. 2 in Knoxville. Bruce Pearl's team has overcome all those player issues and come out the other side.

14. Temple (24-5): Won at La Salle yesterday, 65-53, to win Big 5. If the Owls win at Saint Louis Wednesday and at home against George Washington Saturday, they win A-10 regular season and get No. 1 seed in A-10 Tournament.

15. Neumann-Goretti (23-1): Plays Archbishop Carroll tonight for Catholic League championship at the Palestra. Have won 18 straight.