If you’ve been reading these game previews, you know by now that my new gimmick is to playfully mock a famous alum of the opposing school in question, generally because it’s someone that might not be the most flattering representation for one reason or another. In this case, I’m actually going after a Holy Cross alum that the school no doubt brags about as frequently as possible. That said, the Orange need to crush Holy Cross, because this time it’s personal. This one is between you and me, Simmons.
See, back in December of 2003, Simmons ran a Holiday ramblings column on Page 2, back when ESPN.com actually had a Page 2. The second section was headed by the line, “Thoughts while wondering how Kelly Leak batted three times in the Astrodome…” and it was on that day that Simmons, despite the fact that he still doesn’t even realize it, was setting himself down a path toward becoming my mortal enemy. Of course, it wasn’t until a year and a half later that he’d cement himself as someone whose work I enjoy but who I’d still like to punch in the face at some point. That’s when he wrote about the Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, and broke down the shenanigans that unfolded in the Astrodome that included the Bears very illegally batting out of order in basically each inning.
There was just one problem here: he took the entire breakdown from an e-mail I had sent him back in 2003. See, I was working in my first post college internship out in Kansas City, but had flown home for the holidays at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. Because I was 23 and had nothing better to do, I sat around all day watching television and one of the movies that came on was Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, a movie that falls directly into the “so bad it’s good” category. And as the big game began in the Astrodome, I started noticing some peculiarities with the lineup and actually started jotting down the batting order. Being a big Simmons fan, I immediately thought this would make great material for an e-mail, so I wrote up an extensive breakdown (including comments on Mike Leak’s coaching attire, which didn’t make it into the eventual column that Simmons wrote but Bill, if somehow you’re reading this, you know that was in my original e-mail so you know I’m not making this up) and sent it in.
About two weeks later, the Holiday ramblings column came out and upon seeing the reference to Kelly Leak batting three times in the Astrodome, I immediately knew Simmons had in fact received my e-mail. I didn’t really care that he hadn’t given me credit since it wasn’t an actual mailbag, but I was excited that he referenced my e-mail anyway and bragged to my buddies about it. They can back me up on this as well, or at least one of them can because I know he’s mentioned seeing that second Simmons column and noting how it was a complete ripoff of my e-mail.
Yet he never credited me in the column, either, even with a throwaway line like, “a reader named Jeff pointed out a couple weird things” and then dove into his own take. I would have been cool with that. But no, Simmons kept all of the credit to himself. Unfortunately, the Hotmail account I used to write the e-mail doesn’t have a sent e-mail archive that goes back that far, so my e-mail is lost forever and I have no hard evidence. But I don’t carry grudges lightly. And more importantly, as someone who’s done a lot of writing, I don’t throw around claims of theft – I’m not wanting to call this plagiarism, but it is the theft of an idea – lightly. This happened. And while I’ll continue to read the work Simmons put out, and frequent Grantland, I’ll still never forgive him for that one.
So when I say that Syracuse versus Holy Cross is personal, I mean it. Beat the hell out of them for me, guys.
Anyway, on to the actual game. Holy Cross heads into Friday’s matchup with a record of 3-0, including an impressive early season win over Harvard. It’s a little weird calling a win over Harvard impressive, but this is the world we live in. Of course their second win was over Brown, and their third victory came against Nichols College. Who the hell is Nichols College? It’s a Division III school, and in fact is in the same conference as the school where I did my second internship out of college, so please believe me when I say that it’s not exactly strong competition.
Eric Green, a 6-foot-4 swing man, is the team’s leading scorer at 14.0 points-per-game and is shooting 59.4% from the field, but isn’t a perimeter threat. Through three games, he hasn’t attempted a single three pointer. Justin Burrell, a 5-foot-9 senior, is next in the scoring column with 12.0 points and 5.3 assists-per-game. Malcolm Miller is a 6-foot-7 forward who enters the game averaging 10.3 points, but is shooting just 34.4% from the field and is 1-of-11 on threes. Despite being a starting forward, he’s also only pulling down 2.7 rebounds-per-game.
The team’s leading rebounder is Malachi Alexander, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who grabs 6.0 rebounds to go along with 8.7 points-per-game coming off the bench. He’s hit all four of his three point attempts, but it’s probably pretty safe to assume he’s not going to shoot 100% all year. That would probably be some kind of record, I think. The thing about Holy Cross is that, while they have a few guys with decent size, the big guys don’t really play.
Nine players on the Holy Cross roster are 6-foot-7 or bigger, but six of them rarely, if ever get off the bench. Their biggest player, 6-foot-11 sophomore Matt Husek, has only logged eight minutes all year, and this is a team that has won its last two games going away. That should probably tell you something about the talent level of their big guys. Outside of Miller and Alexander, the only big that plays at all is Taylor Abt, who has started all three games and averages 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make: it’s pretty clear that Syracuse is not going to suddenly morph into a perimeter team. This is absolutely a team driven by post play, and it will go as far as Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough carry it, at least based on the way the first part of the season has gone. Because of this, Holy Cross seems like a game in which Christmas and McCullough should have an absolute field day on the interior.
Add to that the fact that while Holy Cross shoots it respectably, hitting 49.5% from the field and 33.9% from deep, they don’t have anyone on the roster who has made more than four threes through three games, so at least right now it doesn’t seem like this is going to be a team that can beat the Orange from deep. While you never want to take an opponent lightly, especially an opponent that has already knocked off a top 25 team to open the season, this should be a game that Syracuse is able to win handily simply by virtue of having such a drastic size, strength, and athletic advantage.
So go out there on Friday and kick some Holy Cross ass, Syracuse. Win this one for me. And more importantly, win this one in hopes that it’ll make Bill Simmons at least momentarily sad, and perhaps realize the error of his ways and that karma is a bitch. And then he’ll go roll around in his millions of dollars and get Rade Butcher’s name wrong again despite being a self professed expert on Hoosiers and the world will continue to rotate as usual, but at least we’ll have deprived him one moment of happiness.