Well that was nice. Truth be told, Washington wasn't as good as I expected them to be. But that was still a very solid performance, outside of forgetting the rebound throughout the first half. Sherron was great. Cole was just as good. And everyone else contributed. We gave you five things to watch for and mostly, we thought each stood out.
1. How do we play Brockman? Pretty well, I thought. For one thing, he only had 7 points. And despite his 18 rebounds, you never felt like he was too much to handle. I mentioned to a friend before the game that I thought our length would bother him and that turned out to be the case. I still think we'd be in a world of hurt against Griffin because he's taller, more athletic and just better at everything with the possible exception of offensive rebounding. But overall, I was extremely pleased with how the big men moved their feet & held their ground and how timely the perimeter players collapsed on him when we doubled down or in the zone.
2. How does Sherron handle the focus? Washington isn't an elite level defense, so maybe we still haven't seen how he'll handle this, but I didn't even notice a difference. He was just as confident with the ball, created for others and hit shots. If he can break down Syracuse's zone tonight and the other guys can hit some shots, I'll be even more excited. We're definitely watching one of the premier guards in the country.
3. How do Tyrel and Brady defend? As expected, these two were pretty much treated as one in the same with Brady getting the start and the majority of the minutes (led the team with 36, in fact). They both seemed to defend relatively well, despite giving up size and athleticism. Part of that was from the zone and part was from moving their feet and staying in position. I still think we need more from this position (likely as soon as tonight), but when we get 5 assists, four boards, two steals and 0 TOs out of Brady, I'm happy. And Tyrel gave us a similar line with 4 boards, 1 assist, 2 steals and 0 TOs. However, Brady scored 3 points and Tyrel scored 2 on a combined 2-9 (0-4) shooting. We've got to get more than that, specifically from the three point line.
4. How do the freshmen react? Again, I was pleasantly surprised. I expected Washington's physical nature to have a big effect on the Morris'. This was true from a rebounding perspective (Marcus had 2, Markieff had 6), but overall they held their ground on defense and used their athleticism to make some shots on the other end. Marcus put in 13 on 6-9 and Markieff scored 4 on 2-4. Neither is very adept at moving the ball within the offense yet (5 combined TOs), but both have shown rapid improvement and the ability to score the ball. Staying on the inside, Quintrell looked a little out of sorts – much better on D than O, but clearly the fourth option on the interior. From the guard spot, we really only got an extended look at Tyshawn and I thought he played great. He of course had another charge and he had an awful entry pass that led to a turnover, but he recovered to chase down Thomas and block his layup from behind, which was the play of the night. Aside from that he had an efficient 10 points on 4-5 shooting, 2 rebounds, an assist and one other turnover. He wasn't credited with a steal, but I thought he was a good presence defensively, moving his feet and disrupting much dribble penetration. He was beat on occasion, but he really uses his feet and his length well to recover – very much like our last #15 in this capacity.
5. How does Bill approach this team? He seems to have a pretty good handle on them. I questioned the zone early, especially with how badly we were already rebounding, but it seemed to work out well. As for his rotation, he's definitely trimmed it more than I anticipated with basically 7 guys getting the majority of the minutes. The biggest surprise here is that we still aren't seeing much Travis Releford. I keep trying to rationalize why this is, but I can't quite convince myself of anything. My best guess is that Bill is actually trading what he gives us in athleticism for what Brady and Tyrel give us in consistency/dependability (i.e. no turnovers, good ball movement). And I can't argue with that at all, though I really think he needs to be getting a few more minutes, if for nothing other than his size and energy. All in all, I was extremely pleased with how Bill coached the team last night. I thought they looked prepared, I thought they handled adversity well and I thought they adjusted well out of both timeouts and halftime. With such a young team, these are all huge question marks and will remain so from night to night, but yesterday they were passed with adulation from my perspective.
Looking towards tonight's game against the hated Orangemen, I have some concerns. Specifically, the zone defense we're about to face. With the way we're shooting from the outside, I can't imagine why every team we play wouldn't exclusively zone us until we prove we can score against it. Factor in our at times questionable ball movement and we may struggle a bit more tonight, though Syracuse didn't exactly close out on the wings or at the elbow very well last night, so we'll see. Defensively, I'm not sure what to expect. I would expect to start out in man and only go to a zone if it's either not working or we're again in foul trouble. Florida played a lot of it last night and I could never quite figure out why. If this is the case, we may have some trouble containing Flynn's dribble drive. I think we'll have a tough time matching up with Harris and I'll be interested to see how we come off screens to contest the three. Without question, both Syracuse and Florida are better than Washington and it's going to take a performance as good as or better than we got last night to win. At this time yesterday, I had no clue if this was possible. And while that's a lot to ask and we should never start expecting too much on a night to night basis, I think it's plenty within reach.