The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action.
No. 4 Syracuse 60, Cincinnati 53: In its first loss of the year at Notre Dame, Syracuse's interior defense struggled in ways it hasn't struggled for much of the young season. It allowed the Irish to shoot 50 percent (12-of-24) inside the arc, one of the highest two-point FG percentages of any 'Cuse opponent this season, and it was safe to assume the absence of sophomore forward Fab Melo -- one of the nation's leaders in block percentage -- had a lot to do with that statistic.
It was also safe to assume, then, that Syracuse could struggle with Cincinnati's interior of Yancy Gates and Justin Jackson. Gates is one of the bigger big men in the Big East. Jackson, as he showed early and often Monday night, might be one of the best high-post passers in the country. This is a particularly lethal weapon against a 2-3 zone, and without Melo there to extend and disrupt Cincy in the middle of the zone, Jackson was able to create easy looks for Gates and himself when Cincinnati's guards found creases in the zone's top line.
But this is why Syracuse is Syracuse: Jim Boeheim plugged his Melo-sized hole with freshman forward Rakeem Christmas, who would probably start for all but two or three other teams in the country right now. Christmas played the most minutes of his young career, and he earned them: notching four points, nine rebounds and three blocks. That helped shore up 'Cuse's defensive holes. Meanwhile, Scoop Jardine seemingly made every big play down the stretch finding teammates for easy finishes and completions around the rim whenever it felt like Syracuse needed a big bucket. Kris Joseph posted one of the quieter 17 point efforts I can remember, but he was steadily excellent (8-for-11 from the field, six rebounds) as Syracuse escaped a rowdy white-out and a very hot team on the road to bounce back from a loss merely two days ago.
If Syracuse fans were worried that the loss of Melo and the rough scheduling patch could lead to a sudden decline in the Orange's fortunes, they needn't be now. Without Melo, and without playing a particularly good first half (and then some), Syracuse's depth and talent was enough to see them through in the Bearcats' building. How impressive is that?
No. 5 Kansas 64, Texas A&M 54: Bill Self was furious with his players. Self's players were furious with themselves. That surely doesn't bode well for the impression of Texas A&M, a struggling bunch with a 2-5 (now 2-6) Big 12 record which, in a minor shocker, led Kansas 32-30 at the half. Self was apoplectic in his halftime interview; one can only imagine his demeanor behind the walls of the locker room. Even after the game, he called his team "selfish" and "soft," and you got the impression he was less impressed with the Aggies than he was disappointed in his own team.
Still, for an A&M team that was picked by the Big 12's coaches to tie the Jayhawks for the conference title this season -- and has yet to show many signs of life since -- this performance has to be considered a minor victory in its own right. Their defense was excellent, forcing a much larger Jayhawks team into 20 3-pointers (of which they made four) and 42.6 percent from the field on the night; if it hadn't been for Kansas's 48.9 percent free throw rate -- which netted the Jayhawks a 20-of-23 mark from the charity stripe -- A&M may have stayed in this one all the way to the final buzzer. Alas, the Aggies offense was without injured forward Khris Middleton yet again, and so it scored .87 points per trip on the road at Allen Fieldhouse, and no matter how good your defense is on any given night there, you can't score so sporadically and expect to win in the Phog.
Still, Kansas needed a 16-point second half from Thomas Robinson to pull away. This is an L in the column for Billy Kennedy's team, but the loss came with plenty of positives to build on. Sometimes in Allen Fieldhouse, that's the best case scenario.
Coverage links of note: Our own Dana O'Neil was on hand at Syracuse-Cincinnati; her take on a "resilient, tough and deep" Orange team is here.
Everywhere else: There wasn't much else going on last night, but VCU did top Hofstra, Iona took a tough loss at Siena (any Gaels' hopes of a potential at-large bid, slim as they were, are officially gone now) and Towson fell to 0-21 at Delaware. Poor Towson.