During the height of the Syracuse-Georgetown basketball rivalry, Orange fans often asked, "What the hell's a Hoya?"
I think we know now. It's Latin for "party spoiler."
Saturday, in front of 35,012 spectators in the Carrier Dome - the largest on-campus crowd in college hoops history - the Hoyas did it again. They snapped SU's nation-long 38-game home-court winning streak, evoking painful memories of a similar streak-snapping, rivalry-launching upset 33 years ago in the Manley Field House finale.
And Georgetown did so this time around on a day when SU retired the jersey of Carmelo Anthony, who 10 years earlier had helped lead the Orange men to their only NCAA basketball title.
As if all this wasn't cruel enough, the guy who wrecked the party was named Otto. Georgetown's Otto Porter single-handedly destroyed the team represented by fuzzy mascot, Otto the Orange. How's that for a cruel treatment by the basketball gods?
The Hoyas limited SU to an all-time Dome low score in a 57-46 victory. And they did so by beating the Orange at their own game - flummoxing the Orange with a 2-3 zone that has been one of Jim Boeheim's hallmarks.
Before we dissect SU's flaws, let's give Georgetown its due. The Hoyas of John Thompson III have won eight straight and are playing as well as any team in the country right now. Their defense limited SU to 34 percent shooting from the field and forced 16 turnovers that led to 20 points. And if there is a better college player in America right now than Porter, I'd like to see him. The 6-foot-8 junior scored 33 points on just 19 shots, pulled down eight rebounds, made five steals and had just one turnover in one of the greatest performances by a Hoya in this historic series.
So, it's no shame to lose to a team this good. But Syracuse also didn't help its own cause. The Hoyas exploited the Orange men's weaknesses - weaknesses that lead me to believe that this team may not be journeying deep into March.
I wrote a few columns ago about my concerns about SU's big men. And those concerns continue to be well-founded. Simply put, the Orange doesn't have an inside presence. Sophomore center Rakeem Christmas was a high school All-American who was expected to make a big leap this year after gaining valuable reserve experience his freshman season. But he has been an utter disappointment on the offensive end. He rarely attacks the basket and is woefully inconsistent.
His backup, Baye Moussa Keita, tries hard, but he doesn't have good hands and isn't strong enough to be an offensive force.
This Achilles heel of the Orange offense is quite apparent on those nights - such as Saturday - when SU isn't hitting from the outside. This is why more teams are playing zone against the Cuse. They can focus on harassing point guard Michael Carter-Williams and forcing Brandon Triche and James Southerland (combined 9-for-27 vs. Georgetown) to shoot from the outside. If Christmas and Keita were dependable scoring threats, defenses would have to honor them more and that would enable Christmas and Keita to kick the ball back out to the guards for more open shots.
As SU continues the most challenging stretch of its schedule (Monday at Marquette, Saturday at home vs. Louisville, and a March 9 regular-season finale at Georgetown), I wouldn't be surprised to see wide-bodied freshman forward/center Dajuan Coleman log more playing time in the middle. He's still a dear-in-the-headlights freshman and is coming off minor knee surgery, but he can't be much worse than Christmas has been, so why not give him a shot?
Other Orange problem areas include the declining play of point guard Michael Carter-Williams and meager contributions by the reserves, especially shooting guard Trevor Cooney.
SU still is a very good team, but it's also a team with a bunch of holes it may not be able to fill in time to make a deep journey into March.
Author and columnist Scott Pitoniak has followed SU hoops since the mid-1960s and has covered it since the mid-1970s. He is author of "Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story." You can read more of his stuff at www.scottpitoniak.com.
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