For The Orange Its a Matter Of Focus and Free Throw Shooting

Ronald ManbaumCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2009

After an upsetting defeat at the hands of Georgetown earlier in the week, Syracuse returned Andy Rautins to the lineup, and the rest of the team returned from their nap in a match-up against Notre Dame on Saturday.

Syracuse came out firing on all cylinders defeating Irish 93-74 on Saturday.  Balanced scoring and a defensive effort left Luke Harangody suddenly looking less like a player of the year candidate and more like the third best big man on the floor, allowed the Orange to improve to 17-2 for the year.

This Orange team still has faults, and for the Orange to be a final four contender they need to improve their focus, and maybe just as importantly their foul shooting.

It's not every day you see 30,000 people stand and cheer for a seemingly meaningless free throw, but it happened on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.  After missing his first six attempts from the charity stripe Arinze Onuaku was able to deliver on his final attempts bringing a round of applause that usually only follows the most spectacular of plays.

The free throw shooting still needs to improve, but Syracuse fans can only hope that Onuaku finds the form that allowed him to make 15-23 free throws during a stretch in November.  If you remove that miraculous streak from Onuaku's resume you're left with a free throw shooting percentage that may start to approach single digits.

In addition to free throws though this Syracuse team needs to learn to focus, and maintain that concentration for forty minutes of basketball.

Doug Gottleib aptly noted following the game that the Orange appear at times to be an entire team plagued with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  It's an accurate portrayal for a team that has the talent and coaching to reach the final four, but seems to get in its own way far too often.

In one glaring example of the team's ability to lose focus was a three play stint in the second half Saturday where Syracuse allowed Notre Dame to trim a 17 point game to 8 in a matter of two minutes.

After extending their lead to 17, and appearing to take control of the game Syracuse had three possessions that seemed to be totally out of character for a team that had played so well for the first 27 minutes of the game.

Eric Devendorf pulled up from ten feet behind the three point line with a defender in his face.  Paul Harris rushed a three point shot after making an uncontested three just minutes before, and Johnny Flynn attempted a difficult drive to the basket which seemed to turn the momentum in Notre Dame's favor.

Each of these plays can be forgiven, but it's the tendency for this Syracuse team to string together these sorts of plays that is a cause for concern.  Syracuse did regain their compsure and pulled away in the end, but it's moments like this that will not only cost Syracuse games, but possibly a shot at the final four.