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Syracuse Q&A with Orange 44

With the Syracuse game coming up tonight, we reached out to Brian Harrison (@BH_Orange44 on twitter) of Orange 44 for another installment of Q&A. There was plenty to ask this time around, and you can check out my answers over on his blog.

1. Fab Melo was supposed to be the rookie of the year and he opened the season as a starter, what happened to him?

He was overhyped and honestly just hasn’t played enough basketball in his young career. He’s only been playing organized basketball for a couple of years. As they say you can’t teach height. That is definitely the case with Melo. He’s also been battling with some injuries, as well as the fact his conditioning is not up to par. I look for him to improve leaps and bounds next season after having a full year and a full off season at Syracuse. But right now, he needs to sit the bench during games and learn.

2. What do you think lead to Syracuse's Big East let-down, after going undefeated out of conference? Were the players just not ready for the grind? Did people overrate wins over then-number-8 Michigan State and others?

That Michigan State win at the time looked great. A big win over then #8 in Madison Square Garden, Syracuse’s de facto second home was really the only potential stumbling block on their non-conference schedule. The rest of the games were expected wins. Frankly most people expected Syracuse to get through the non-conference undefeated. What was unexpected was the fact that some of those games were closer than they should have been, and seemed like it was too arduous for Syracuse to put away far inferior teams. On top of that you have the toughest conference in America, and ranked teams around every corner. And no team gets through the season without nights they just can’t seem to hit any shots, or their defense fails to stop anyone, or some opposing player just has a career night. Additionally, when you have a Saturday to Monday game or a Monday to Wednesday it can wear on you in a tough conference. Syracuse just hit a skid. And in a league like the Big East losing begets losing and winning begets winning. Syracuse luckily snapped out of it. But it was obvious that they were just not as talented as the season before. That happens in the Big East.

3. Most Syracuse fans will tell you that Georgetown is their number-one rivalry, but when they pack the Carrier Dome with record crowds, Villanova always seems to be in town, are the Wildcats overtaking the Hoyas as the top rivalry?

Definitely not. And I don’t think that’s any mystery either. The last couple of years have been a product of their circumstances. Last season SU was cruising through the schedule and Villanova was projected to be the best team in the league, and when they were scheduled to meet they were both in the top ten and at the time it essentially would decide the Big East regular season champion. On top of that College Gameday was in town. This season, Villanova was the biggest and best opponent SU had on a Saturday at home on the schedule. By default it because the biggest home game.

Now all that being said, it is a fantastic rivalry in the past few years and is one of the most entertaining and sexy matches on the Big East slate. But to Syracuse fans in terms of rivalries it clearly goes 1a) Georgetown and 1b) Connecticut.

4. Obviously Villanova can expect to see the 2-3 zone on Monday night, but how has the Syracuse game plan changed over the past month (or has it)?

No surprises here. Syracuse plays 2-3 zone defense and that’s it. The difference between Syracuse wins and losses is how well they defend the perimeter. Syracuse has been prone to lapses this season. Either the effort hasn’t been there, or just mentally they forget to cover the guy that is averaging 45% from behind the arc. Then there is the Seton Hall game in which they just couldn’t miss even when closely guarded. In the last few games however, Syracuse has recommitted to closely guarding shooters and rotating far better in the zone than they did in the four game skid. Also, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph have become more aggressive and they are making better decisions than they were earlier in the season. On top of that CJ Fair is playing better as well, and is now the best freshman on the team. Villanova saw Syracuse at the start of their offensive woes. Now they are seeing them breaking out of it.

5. If you could trade me any one of Syracuse's starting five for one of Villanova's who would you give me and who would you take? Why?

This is the easiest question to answer by far. We’re giving you Scoop Jardine and we’ll take Corey Fisher despite the fact his lips are unable to close. With 16.3ppg and shooting 39.1% from long range, those are offensive numbers that would help Syracuse. On top of that he has been shown to be clutch when it counts and seems to have better decision making ability right now. While Jardine can slice the lane and his shooting his improved, Syracuse needs far more consistency from him and more of a long range threat that is guaranteed to make open shots. I will say though that Scoop probably has the best mid-range jump shot on Syracuse, so you’ll be getting that at least.

6. What percentage of the Carrier Dome crowd is made up of students and alumni and how many are just townies with no affiliation with the school other than Geography?

This is tough to answer because there are a lot of Syracuse alumni that are in the greater Syracuse area and in nearby Rochester and Utica and in Central New York. Students have been known to camp out a full week in advance for some of the bigger games on the schedule, and yes that is outside until about 2 days before the game. Then the Carrier Dome staff lets the line move indoors. I would say for an average Big East game the students around 30% of the crowd. Alumni probably make up another 30%. Even if they are not undergraduate alumni, there are a number of law school and masters students in the area. And finally about 40% are probably just local fans with no other ties than enjoying college basketball at the highest level.

7. 'Cuse grabbed a couple of recruits from Villanova's backyard for next year. What sort of impact do you expect Cooney and Christmas to have for the Orange?

Rakeem Christmas is a center that should get some playing time if he shows acumen at rebounding and defense. Syracuse doesn’t need scoring from the center position save for a quick put back from an offensive rebound. The key to being center at Syracuse is showing tough defense and hitting the boards. Christmas has shown he is an excellent shot blocker and should fit well into the zone. Cooney is a guard that will also push for playing time. Triche has been solid, but Scoop and freshman guard Dion Waiters have been inconsistent. They will both improve in the off season, but Cooney has the ability to push them for playing time, or being able to play selective minutes with good shooting. They both should make an impact next season.

Thanks again to Orange 44 for participating in our Q&A. Please don't forget to check out my Syracuse preview, and get your entries in for Closest to the Pin.