Archive for October, 2010
Whether you can believe it or not, we’re just four days away from exhibition basketball at the Carrier Dome as the Orange revs up for the 2010-11 season. SU lost Andy Rautins, Wes Johnson and Arinze Onuaku last season, easily the three most beloved players to leave Syracuse since Gerry McNamara graduated. As all three were starters last season, this season will have a very different look in terms of personnel. I’ve divided the roster into guards and forwards, so today will be a primer of sorts for the guards, and on Monday, I’ll address the forwards.
SU had a very efficient defense last season, ranking 36th in the nation and first in the Big East in defensive points per possession, a stat that neutralizes the varying paces of play that you find across college basketball to give an average number of points that a team gives up when they’re on the defensive end*. Part of that performance should be credited to the bigs for forcing the opposition to change their angles toward the basket and generally playing their men tight when in their area of the zone. Part of it, though, should be credited to the guard play for forcing trap situations and invading passing lanes.
Quick aside: You can find an excellent explanation of points per possession and other tempo-neutralized stats here. I think tempo-free stats are basketball’s version of SABRmetrics in terms of being a collective tool (giggle giggle) that separates the good teams from the great ones, and also helps identify the teams that the national media should talk about but probably won’t. Read the rest of this entry »
October is an exhilarating time of the year in the life of a college basketball fan. The month begins with the season still in the distance, and the first week is quiet, with some news coming from the recruiting front, as it did all summer. Occasionally, there’s an unfortunate injury; sometimes, a former player from your school finally breaks through for that hard-fought 8th-man-on-the-bench NBA contract, but things are mostly calm. But in the second and third weeks, however, an earthquake of media days, preview magazines and preseason rankings erupts and before you know it, Midnight Madness is upon us.
We’re at that point right now, and ‘Cuse fans are abuzz over what Kris Joseph has in store for the Big East, how Fab Melo will blow away opposing post defenses as a newcomer, and how a slimmer Rick Jackson will help carry the load in life after Arinze Onuaku. As the season gears up, I think it’s a great time to also talk about that moment (or moments) that remind you why being a college basketball fan is so exciting. For me, that time came in the spring semester of my sophomore year in 2006.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a bona fide SU fan until I received my acceptance letter in the spring of 2004. It wasn’t that I didn’t follow the game; growing up in the Midwest, college basketball was a rich part of the sports culture. This was especially true in my hometown Kansas City, where the Royals and Chiefs stunk up the joint while the area’s college teams kept relevance. At that time, I knew Syracuse basketball as a steady name in the college hoops world; the Orangemen were always somewhere in the conversation, and were particularly fresh in 2003 during their title run, but they were rarely spoken of in the same breath as powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and the like.
I arrived on campus the following fall and was instantly enamored with the inside-out combo of Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara. Going to games as a freshman, I was treated to Warrick’s amazing displays of leaping ability on a nightly basis. There was seemingly no limit to what he could do when he got the ball, whether it was down low or at the elbow. McNamara could take a dribble past the timeline and pull up from anywhere. The team got off to an amazing 21-2 start, but as the season waned, GMac went cold and the team went 4-5 over its last nine games. Warrick then put the team on his back, averaging 26.6 points per game over the last six outings, and SU captured a Big East Tournament title. After the brackets were unveiled, pundits were divided between predictions of a first-round exit to the surprising Vermont Catamounts and a Final Four run. Of course, we know how that turned out.
I was sad to see Warrick graduate, but was still pumped for the next season. 2006-07 got off to another solid start, but Syracuse’s 15-2 record was quickly deflated by five losses in a six-game span, two of which came at the hands of Connecticut. Jim Boeheim and his troops never quite regained their footing. The 2003 recruiting class, the supposed fruit of the championship run, was only productive in spurts; they would have solid games on one end of the floor or the other, but seldom both in the same game.
Consistency past McNamara was hard to come by, though a freshman Eric Devendorf started to put some nice lines together in the second half. SU plodded to a 7-9 finish in conference play and looked dead in the water following a three-game skid: a 15-point loss to Georgetown, a 39-point laugher at DePaul, and to top it off, a soul-crushing defeat from Villanova on McNamara’s senior day as 33,633 looked on with broken hearts. The conference tournament was on the horizon, but hope was hard to come by. A column by The Daily Orange‘s Ethan Ramsey declared Gerry McNamara overrated.
It was midterms week, and I turned on the opening-round game against Cincinnati out of a sentiment of obligation rather than excitement. Of course, Gerry McNamara sank an amazing, running buzzer-beater on Wednesday afternoon to send SU past the Bearcats. After the game, Boeheim eviscerated Ramsey in a heartfelt postgame press conference, breathing new life into the SU fanbase. The rival Huskies awaited the next day, and while an NCAA bid was still a stretch at that point, SU had a prime opportunity to get on the right side of the bubble by knocking off the nation’s number-one team. The Orange was playing with house money.
As for me, I was stuck with my friend, Steve, taking a test in the HBC basement as the second half of the UConn game got underway. After much pleading before the test, Steve, myself and the other 60 or so of us convinced our professor, a native of Utah, of all places, to update the score on the projector at the front of the room every five minutes while we took the test. No one could keep focus, as eyes bobbed among test booklets, bubble sheets, blue books and the screen in front as Connecticut mounted a comeback. 41-28. 41-34. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to look up, as groans and whispered expressions of frustrations from those nearby told me all I needed to know, but hey, that was what we bargained for.
I finished my midterm and handed it in, but returned to my seat and re-glued my eyes to the screen for another few minutes while Steve finished. At that point, UConn’s comeback was complete. With overtime about to begin, our underage selves booked it for Schine, a fortunately downhill run. We had no idea McNamara had hit another clutch three to tie the game with 5.5 seconds left in regulation.
The dining room was packed to the gills; it wasn’t even worth it to try to find a table. Some people sat on the Dorito-encrusted carpeting, but most stood as we did. UConn went up 57 seconds into the extra period, but went ice cold for the next 3:30 as SU took a four-point lead on a free throw from Darryl Watkins. Eric Devendorf stole the ensuing inbounds pass, but instead of holding onto the ball for dear life and letting UConn foul him, he drove toward the basket and missed a point-blank layup. The Huskies rebounded and Denham Brown canned a three at the other end for a five-point swing. UConn would have two chances to tie the game in the final seconds, but missed both and SU held on for another win. The ‘Cuse had beaten the nation’s best team and was still alive in the Big East Tournament. Schine could have very well burned to the ground that afternoon. Random strangers high-fived one another and eventually, the crowd thinned out.
The subsequent victories against Georgetown and Pittsburgh to polish off the run to the tournament title were also exciting to watch, of course. In the Big Dance, the bill for all the energy and physical endurance from the week before finally came due, and SU lost to Texas A&M, again in the first round. But it didn’t seem to matter. Maybe it was the underdog role the Orange played in MSG, but to me, there was no sensation like the feeling of community I felt that day, from the classroom to the food court. That’s what makes the 2006 Big East quarterfinal my favorite moment as Syracuse fan.
Minor tragedy struck Syracuse basketball Friday afternoon when the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that center DaShonte Riley is suffering from a lingering foot injury. The report indicates that the injury wasn’t sustained at any certain point, but has been nagging over the course of time and has apparently come to the point where it needs to be more seriously addressed. There seems to be two courses of action for Riley and the coaching staff to take:
1. Opt for surgery, which would cause Riley to miss the entire season, though he would be granted a medical redshirt and have three years of eligibility remaining.
2. Give the injury time to heal on its own. This option leaves open the possibility of a return, but it would take a good deal of time before he’s 100% and the pain could still be nagging even after he comes back.
In either case, Baye Moussa Keita, once a potential redshirt candidate, will now have to be ready to play. In the Big East, you can’t carry two big men on your roster and expect to compete for the conference title (unless you’re Villanova circa 2005-07 and have a lightning-quick stable of supremely talented guards, which SU doesn’t).
At this point, you have to feel for Riley. He didn’t get much run last year until Arinze Onuaku went down at the end of the season, and if he were healthy this season, he’d play an important bench role, spelling Rick Jackson and Fab Melo. Riley’s 2010-11 season could be shot, and waiting in the wings next year is a stud center in Rakeem Christmas, to say nothing of the possibility of Melo returning for his sophomore year, plus Keita in the fold. If Melo stays, Riley would be buried on the depth in 2011-12 as he was last season, and have to prove himself all over again.
But, as SU knows all too well from recent years, injuries are part of the game and as a coaching staff, it’s important to have the personnel in place to adapt and move on. Before the 2006-07 season, Arinze Onuaku had surgery on his left knee and missed the entire campaign. As a result, Syracuse had to rely excessively on Terrence Roberts and Daryl Watkins, two seniors who had trouble producing on offense due to foul trouble and a limited array of post moves. ‘Cuse fans know how this movie ended – with a disappointing trip to the NIT, however undeserved it may have been.
This season, it may be a similar situation, but instead of Terrence Roberts and Daryl Watkins, a pair of underachieving bigs who couldn’t prosper even with three full seasons under their belts, SU has Rick Jackson, a player whose numbers have improved with each season he’s been on campus; and Fab Melo, a McDonald’s All-American who has the size and shooting touch to win any matchup he encounters all season. While missing Riley would hurt from the perspective of the depth he provides, the contributions he makes in practice towards making the starters better and all the other things that bench players like Riley are lauded for, there is enough talent in the remaining roster to keep Syracuse a contender, and that just wasn’t the case four years ago.
There’s also silver lining in the fact that redshirting Riley would give him an extra season of eligibility at the expense of sitting out this season. If given the choice between having a center this season whose limited role is to merely keep the team in games for 10-12 minutes while Melo and Jackson rest, and having a center in 2013-14 who has filled out his body and is polished in the system to the point where he can shoulder a bigger responsibility, I think most ‘Cuse fans would rather have the latter. That means Joseph may spend some time out of his position at the 4 spot this year, but he’s athletic and developed enough where not much would be lost.
The injury bumps Keita up on the depth chart, but if Jim Boeheim isn’t confident in what he can bring to the table at such an early point in his career, he could expand the guard rotation to include Mookie Jones as well as Dion Waiters while Kris Joseph slides to the four spot and one of Jackson or Melo anchors the big man spot. Whatever the case may be, Boeheim has options.
Amazing win for the Orange this Saturday. An awesome 98 yard drive led by Ryan Nassib catapulted the Orange to a program first victory over South Florida in Tampa.
The Cuse fought an uphill battle all day with field position, but their defense was up to the task holding back BJ Daniels and the Bulls offense, surrendering only 3 points on a warm afternoon.
The win could be the program changer that an eager fan base has been looking for. The Big East is wide open and could up for grabs as perennial top teams such as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have shown signs of weakness.
The game plan to wear down the Bulls interior line paid dividends as Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey rushed for the majority of their yardage in the second half.
But that 98 yard drive was something wasn’t it? The mix of run and pass was excellent. Marcus Sales recording his first reception of the season was great to see.
So stand up proud Orange football fans! The dawn of a new era has begun! Enjoy this one. I sure did.
Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles Athletic Club revealed its list of the Preseason Top 50 Wooden Award Candidates. In essence, the preseason list is a projection of the top 50 players in the country – freshmen, transfers and redshirt players excluded (those players can and will be added when the list is revised in December). It’s a safe assumption that each candidate is his team’s best player, though five schools, including Syracuse, placed multiple players on the list.
Everyone and their mother knows Kris Joseph is expected to be the leader of the Orange this year, naturally sliding into the hole on the team left by the departure of Wes Johnson. All summer, we heard about how he impressed at Kevin Durant’s camp, and around that time, projections as a first-round draft selection began to emerge. He’s got the spectacular driving ability, the excellence in transition and the body and leaping ability to corral his share of rebounds. It’s not a surprise to see him there; in fact, I’d be quite shocked if he wasn’t on that list. But who would you expect to be the second nominee?
Looking at the numbers of the returning players from last season, one would expect it to be Rick Jackson, the steady senior forward, or Scoop Jardine, his high school teammate, a quick point guard with two years of experience under his belt. Thing is, it’s neither Jackson or Jardine who has graced the watch list of one of college basketball’s most prestigious accolades.
It’s Brandon Triche. Read the rest of this entry »