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.
Yes, that Brandon Triche, who as a freshman, averaged just 2.8 assists per game with two of the easiest targets in the country dominating the post. Yes, that Brandon Triche, who saw his minutes dwindle to just 18.6 per game in SU’s last eight games of the season. In that span, it became clear that Jim Boeheim felt more comfortable with the in the hands of Scoop Jardine and Andy Rautins in close games. Considering what happened with Jardine during the final moments of the UConn game at the Dome, it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Triche’s capabilities. If you aren’t sold on my skepticism, let’s get mathematical.
In a 35-game season, Triche posted 30 steals (sixth on the team) and turned the ball over twice per game, which doesn’t sound all that bad until you notice that he only played 20 minutes per game. In addition, he shot just 63.4% from the charity stripe, good for fifth among Boeheim’s patented seven-man rotation. In short, Triche was mediocre at best in those statistics largely considered to be important to the point guard position, though to be fair, he was third on the team in three-pointers made to go with a praiseworthy 40% rate from beyond the arc.
My intent here is not to sandbag Triche. His size makes him an ideal point guard for the zone defense, and the experience he received last season starting as a freshman in the Big East is sure to pay major dividends later on in his career, perhaps as soon as this season. It’s also no secret that Boeheim has been in his corner for awhile; if you recall, he declared Triche the starter in June of 2009, two months before he even arrived on campus. I trust the guy’s judgement. I just don’t see how he can be considered one of the nation’s 50 best players in 2009-10 based on the season he had.
I understand his job isn’t to score, but it’s not out of the blue to picture a scenario where he ends up sixth on the team in scoring behind Joseph, Jackson, Fab Melo, Jardine and Dion Waiters this season. You also can’t completely rule out the chances of Mookie Jones finally getting out of his own way and commanding minutes at the 2 spot. Maybe that hypothetical situation speaks more to the substantial depth projected of this season’s team compared to years past than it does to Triche’s capabilities. Still, is that the kind of player you expect to be on a national preseason award watch list? While I expect him to improve his ballhandling this season and to do a better job of utilizing his frame on the defensive end, the LA Athletic Club will just have to color me skeptical on this one.