Geico sponsored those banners that when you unravel spell out go Syracuse. Well the default picture for the article is what my banner looked like after I attended Syracuse-Louisville game. It didn't look much better unravelled as well. (It took me a half hour how to figure out how to embed a photo in an article, so savor this image.)
That banner was the victim of my frustrations as I watched Syracuse and Louisville put on a display of absolutely anemic offense fueled by some of the worst officiating I've seen all year.
The Orange didn't know what to do offensively. SU would uncharacteristically penetrate almost every possession and for awhile it worked well as the referees blew their whistles, parading Syracuse guards to the free throw line. Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf shot a combined 15 free throws.
But then, the whistles went silent. During the final ten minutes of play, the officials let 'em play which was the Orange's downfall. No longer could Flynn and Devendorf count on a referees whistle to back up their wild shots in the lane. The Orange's offense slowed to halt without the ability to penetrate or shoot the three-ball.
The Orange knocked down just four of 16 three-pointers. Its main three-point threat left the game after crumbling to the ground with an ankle injury. Red-shirt junior Andy Rautins received a pass in front of the Syracuse bench and suddenly fell to the ground holding his leg.
The Carrier Dome crowd that exceeded 25,000 collectively gasped, hoping it wasn't another torn A.C.L. for the homegrown favorite. While Rautins laid on the ground in obvious pain, the entire crowd started a "Let's Go Andy" chant. After the game, teammates speculated that Rautins had twisted his ankle, but it was unknown if Rautins will miss Wednesday's game against Providence.
Without Rautins, Syracuse tallied just two field goals over the final seven minutes, one of which was a Devendorf three that temporarily put the Orange ahead 55-54. But in the final four minutes right before his three-pointer, Devendorf was called for consecutive push-offs and turned the ball over. One push-off was legitimate, but the other was a tremendous acting job by Preston Knowles at half court and was a wrong call.
Louisville got back into its groove, ending the game on a 13-2 run.
So what does this game mean for the Orange and the Cardinals in the long run?
For Syracuse, this loss showed the Orange isn't quite on the elite level of a North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh, UConn, etc... Syracuse could have gotten away with losing three of its four games against ranked opponents and still be able to throw its hat into the ring as an elite team if the Orange didn't get embarrassed at Georgetown and in Pittsburgh.
As good as Syracuse has been up to this latest stretch, the 'Cuse has noticeable holes. The Orange is a team you can legitimately call a fraud because of its poor efficiency numbers. SU is a respectable 29th in offensive efficiency and also a respectable 45th in defensive efficiency, but overall rank just 30th.
So by the numbers, Syracuse is just the 30th best team in the country, not eighth or even the 15th or so ranking the 'Cuse will receive Monday in the polls.
One positive note for Syracuse, Louisville's full court press which ate Pittsburgh and Notre Dame alive, didn't affect SU at all. The Orange turned the ball over in the first minute as a result of the press, but didn't turn it over again because of the pressure the rest of the game. In fact, the Orange's best offense was scoring quick baskets in transition when trying to outrun the press.
As for Louisville, the sky is the absolute limit for the Cardinals at this point. Rick Pitino's squad is an astounding 6-0 in the Big East with wins now over Villanova, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. Louisville is clearly the best defensive team in the country, using two different full court presses to throw the opposing team's offense completely out of rhythm.
Louisville's Terrence Williams and Edgar Sosa are starting to knock down jump shots for the first time all year which could be the key for Louisville in order to beat teams when the defense isn't superb.
The Cardinals are suddenly looking like the team that many pundits ranked in the top five and as high as second in the preseason polls. After all the debate of whether Pitt or UConn was the best team in the Big East, it may be time to ask if either of those teams can beat Louisville right now.