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.
Scoop Jardine – Though he came off the bench last season, Jardine became more pivotal a player as a guiding hand while Brandon Triche experienced the freshman learning curve of adapting to Big East play. Everyone remembers the UConn game when Scoop recklessly drove into a crowded lane, only to be bailed out by a timeout call. That game appeared to be a teaching point in ball-handling; from that game on, Scoop committed just 15 turnovers over the team’s last ten games while playing about 25 minutes per night. That’s a good sign, as reports indicate that Scoop will be the primary point guard with Brandon Triche switching over from the two when Jardine needs a rest. Perimeter shooting questions surrounded the team in the wake of Rautins’ and Johnson’s departures, but I think that production will be handled not by any one or two sharpshooters, but more by a committee of Jardine, Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche. You can lump Mookie Jones in there too, but do so at your own risk. As one of only a few upperclassmen, Jardine can lead this team in the backcourt very capably.
Grain-of-Salt Prediction: 32 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 1.5 SPG
Brandon Triche: Although Triche played admirably in the NCAA Tournament, averaging about nine points per game in three contests, he’s still learning how to get the most out of his ability and size. His physical attributes, specifically his 6’4″ frame and long arms, will make him a key asset on defense, but I think we’ll see a noticeable decrease from last year in how often he carries the ball up the court. With the rock in his hands, he doesn’t slash a la Devendorf as much as he cuts through the lane using his big (for a guard) body to absorb contact on the way to the hoop. Like Jardine, Triche isn’t an assassin from behind the arc, but he’ll make enough to keep defenses honest.
Grain-of-Salt Prediction: 23 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 35% 3FG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG
Dion Waiters: The time has finally come for Waiters, who committed to SU before playing a second of varsity basketball. Jim Boeheim never hedges when it comes to describing his newcomers, whether it’s Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson or Fab Melo. He’s also very rarely wrong. We’ll see if the same goes for the five-star recruit Waiters, who Boeheim describes as being as good a guard as the program ever had. Another 6’4″ guard, Waiters’ game is almost exclusively offense at this point, though playing in the front of the zone could mask his perceived weaknesses as a defender while he figures things out. He’s willing to shoot the trey, as his 21-99 pace from behind the arc as a senior at Life Center Academy indicates, but it also shows that he’s pretty rusty and possibly a chucker. Where Waiters excels is in getting to the rim as a true slasher. In terms of playing style, I see a few similarities to Eric Dvendorf, which helps in projecting his career, but don’t look for Waiters to average 27 minutes per game as Devo did.
Grain-of-Salt Prediction: 20 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 30% 3FG
Mookie Jones: With everything he’s been through since arriving on campus with Kris Joseph (some of which he’s brought on himself, though that’s another post for another day), it’s hard to believe that Mookie is still only a sophomore in terms of eligibility. With so much of SU’s perimeter production now in the NBA, never before has Jones had a bigger opportunity to net himself playing time as a long-range specialist. Boeheim has been quoted as saying that Mookie’s defense, a major Achilles heal in his skillset, has come along, but it’s still hard to draw any real conclusions since he was so limited in that area last season. He’ll get his chances against some of SU’s weaker opponents in the nonconference term, so he needs to make an impression early if he wants to be anything more than a mop-up contributor.
Grain-of-Salt Prediction: 5 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 40% 3FG