Admiration for 'Cuse nation

On March 7, 2013

I am a die-hard Syracuse Orange basketball fan. I was born and raised in 'Cuse and am proud to say one of the happiest moment of my life was in sixth grade (2003) when the Orange won the National Championship.

Lately, I haven't been so happy. The Orange were recently on a three-game losing streak and dropped out of the top 10 in the rankings for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season. It's safe to say this is the worst stretch of basketball we've seen from 'Cuse in about three years, which is prompting me to go against my better judgment and write my first-ever column about my beloved team.

Everyone in the country, including the city's own, has written us off for the season, but not me.

Not only am I a die-hard Orange fan, but I am an avid fan of college basketball in general. And I believe 'Cuse has a good chance to cut down the nets this year.

If you're still reading, you are probably aware of the team's recent struggles. The Orange have lost six of their last 11 and their current No. 17 ranking is the lowest the program has had since Feb. 21, 2011. Their three-game losing streak came at the hands of teams that were all ranked in the top 25 - but that isn't why I still have hope.

The reason: there has never been this much parity in college basketball for as long as I can remember.

Indiana has been the only team in the country that has ever serviced the title as a "great team," and even the Hoosiers have five losses. There are zero great teams and just a handful of good ones.

I've had my doubts about the Orange, but their most recent loss to Louisville altered my mindset on the rest of their season. They failed to defeat the Cardinals, but their second-half performance was some of the best basketball I've seen them play all year. They looked hungry and aggressive for once.

Had it not been for one key player's mistakes, I think they would have pulled off the win. 'Cuse faithful know who I am referring to - our senior who has started every game while a member of the Orange and couldn't touch the ball in the second half without taking a bad shot or turning the ball over: Brandon Triche.

Despite the losses, it hasn't been all bad for 'Cuse. Which leads me into an Orange-devoted segment: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: C.J. Fair, aka Mr. Reliable. Fair has been the only consistent player on the team throughout the entirety of the season. In the last three losses, the offense has been stagnant and inefficient, to say the least. But Fair has managed to drop 17.3 points per game while shooting an incandescent 54 percent during the losing streak and always finding a way to keep hope alive.

Honorable mention: James Southerland has undoubtedly given 'Cuse a lift with his perimeter shooting. Before Wednesday's game against DePaul, he had averaged 14.1 PPG and knocked down over three 3-pointers since his return from suspension. But his trigger-happy ways lose possessions early in the shot clock all too often.

The bad: Michael Carter-Williams. Earlier in the season, he was a candidate for Player of the Year, but since then, it seems members of 'Cuse nation are the only people to recognize that his stock as a top 10 draft pick is absurd. His assists and points are down during the losing streak and he continues to struggle shooting the ball.

The not-so-bad? He has been the only player to attempt to penetrate and attack the basket late in games - making former Scoop Jardine haters regret his absence. If only MCW had this mentality for 40 minutes.

The ugly: Brandon Triche. It's not his 8.7 PPG, his ungodly 29 percent field-goal shooting or even his 7.6 percent (1 for 13) shooting from deep (stats from the three-game losing streak) that makes him intolerable to me. It's his mindset. When he misses or turns the ball over, he looks defeated and rejected. He has had this frigid attitude his whole career, but there's no time for that now.

 You're the senior; step it up. Unless he goes "Keyser Soze" on us come tournament time, he'll forever remain in my 'Cuse doghouse with the likes of Donte Greene and Fab Melo.

There's time for this team to turn it around - look at what UConn did two years ago. The Orange play defense and are as athletic as any team in the country. If they can put together performances like they did in the second half against Louisville last week, I like this team. When Gonzaga sits atop the top 25 rankings as the "best" team in the country, there can still be hope.



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